news National broadband provider Exetel has signalled it may modify its core business systems to make it more difficult for anti-piracy organisations such as Movie Rights Group to target its customers for allegedly illegally downloading content through platforms like BitTorrent.
Several weeks ago, it was revealed that Movie Rights Group — a new company — had approached every major Australian ISP seeking information on users who had allegedly infringed copyright online, initially seeking the details of some 9,000 Australians who it claimed had downloaded the film Kill the Irishman. There are plans to broaden the company’s efforts to other films.
Unlike the other major Australian organisation representing the film industry, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, Movie Rights Group is taking a different approach to piracy. Instead of legally targeting ISPs for the actions of their users, it will merely seek to subpoena customer information from the ISPs and contact those who had allegedly infringed its copyright directly, seeking to settle the matter out of court or through legal action.
The Federal Government has since proposed to streamline the legal subpoena process.
However, in a blog post published yesterday, Exetel chief executive John Linton noted his company may implement workarounds to its systems which would make it difficult for such a legal process to be possible.
“The appearance of scum like the Movie Group [has] forced Exetel to have to consider the base ways we operate the core systems of our business, simply because we must now consider which is the greater of the evils our current society has forced us to confront,” Linton wrote.
“In this case, it is do we go out of our way to protect those of our customers who knowingly and willfully steal other people’s property or do we allow them to be exposed to even scummier elements of our society … who might be able, amazingly and disappointingly, to use the Australian court system to allow them to be blackmailed?”
Linton said it was “a tough decision” for his business to make — and one that would likely cost it over $200,000 if it did implement systems to make Movie Rights Group’s legal process difficult to follow — which Linton noted Exetel “almost certainly” would.
“So by the end of this week copyright theft by some percentage of our customers will cost Exetel something over $200,000 to ensure blackmailing scum can’t target our law-breaking customers,” the executive added.
It remains unclear just how Exetel plans to get around the legal process being used by Movie Rights Group. The process relies on the company producing a significant body of evidence that would allow a court to ascertain that content was being illegally downloaded to or uploaded from an IP address belonging to one of Exetel’s customers. The court would then, under the process, issue an order that Exetel identify that customer.
One way which Exetel may be able to avoid identifying its customers to Movie Rights Group is to avoid keeping records of which customers were using a certain IP address at a certain time — or even to regularly change the IP addresses being used by its customers. By distancing itself from that level of information, the organisation may be able to argue in court that it doesn’t hold the information which Movie Rights Group is seeking.
For his own part, Linton made it clear that he doesn’t approve of either anti-piracy “scum” like Movie Rights Group or customers who illegally downloaded content. “Personally, I was brought up to respect other people’s ownership of property and have lived my life to date on that basis,” he wrote. “Clearly my parents and educators belong to a past era … in a society where lying exceeds truth by an overwhelming margin it is a matter of indifference that base ethics, let alone common courtesy, is progressively ever more absent from social interaction.”
Exetel has examined the FetchTV offering for Internet video which is being promoted by Optus, iiNet, Internode and Adam Internet, Linton noted, but he didn’t believe it would represent a substantial alternative to on-demand video systems available internationally but not in Australia, such as Netflix.
It’s a funny world. John Linton, who broadly detests those who use his company’s to infringe copyright, is nonetheless prepared to put up a fight against organisations which would seek to target his customers. iiNet, on the other hand, which is already fighting the movie studios in court, has already rolled over and is supporting the legal process being used by Movie Rights Group.
And yet, somehow I’m not surprised by Linton’s approach.
The executive is cut from the old school of business owners. He resents anyone who attempts to make his business life harder for him, and he’s not going to just simply let himself or his customers be railroaded to serve someone else’s interests. In fact, if it wasn’t for Linton’s initial blog post on Movie Rights Group, the issue wouldn’t even be in the public limelight to start with.
So I raise my hat to the plain-spoken executive. So far, he’s the only ISP executive in Australia to publicly flag plans to stand up for the rights of his customers and protect his own company’s data. It’s an approach that clearly customers want, at least to some extent, from their ISPS.
Furthermore, if Australia’s other ISPs would take a similar approach, it might force the content owners to provide legitimate options for getting film and TV content into Australian homes over the Internet. God knows they’ve done a pretty poor job of it so far.