Pirate Party opposes anti-piracy warning scheme

news The Pirate Party Australia has objected strongly to the recent proposal issued by major Australian ISPs entitled “A Scheme to Address Online Copyright Infringement”.

The plan, proposed last week, has been put forward by a coalition of Australia’s major Internet Service Providers (ISPs), including Optus, Telstra, iiNet, Primus and Internode. The group had suggested an 18-month trial of the scheme followed by an independent evaluation. Other major ISPs such as Dodo, TPG and Exetel have refused to back the idea.

The scheme proposes the setting up of an infringement notice system by which violators would be sent notices by ISPs on behalf of content rights holders who have evidence of breach of copyright online. The notices would inform users of alleged copyright violations linked to their account and also educate them about online copyright infringement. After a user had been being served with warning and educational notices, to no avail, the scheme would allow his/her details to be made available to content owners through a subpoena legal process.

However, Brendan Molloy, Pirate Party Secretary described the proposal as a privacy nightmare: “We’re not surprised to see once again a proposal with the purpose of giving up customers’ personal information on the whims of a dying industry, upon nothing more than an accusation.”

Several major organisations speaking on behalf of the content industry have already rejected the proposal shortly after it was put forward. Meanwhile, Molloy has criticised the proposed system as having high potential for abuse and misinformation by the industry. “We’ve seen time and time again studies that have been based entirely on false premises by this industry, and while entirely debunked by the community, they continue to push these reports as fact,” Molloy stated.

Meanwhile, the Pirate Party Australia has appreciated the acknowledgment by the Communications Alliance of the direct connection between the untimely delivery of film and television and the unauthorised access to online content and copyright violation. The group believes that a market failure has resulted in the growth in file sharing.

Still, the Pirate Party has expressed cynicism about the proposal’s intention to bring about long-term change in user behaviour, to match up to what it considered outdated principles of ownership of intellectual property. Mozart Palmer, spokesperson for the Party said, “In the real world, where possessions are tangible, people acknowledge that you can steal something if you can touch it. Internet users have a very different perspective on intellectual property than the rights holders. They see sharing as a cultural activity, not something done maliciously to hurt the content owners.”

As per the proposal, ISPs would not have to issue more than 100 infringement notices every month. Molloy accused ISPs of pandering to the interests of the industry as little as possible to avoid alienating their own customers as the media industry has done. “ISPs realise that they will face losses as their customer base diminishes if they follow the same path,” Molloy claimed.

The Pirate Party also stated that they were still awaiting a response from the Attorney-General’s Department to their FOI request concerning an opaque ‘stakeholders’ meeting held earlier in 2011, with no minutes recorded. The Party has promised to release this information as soon as it receives it.

An entirely predictable response from the Pirate Party; of course the party would object to this new proposal on behalf of ISPs. However, it’s interesting to see that — as with the Australian Sex Party — the Pirate Party’s actual policy platforms are not fringe at all in 2011, but fairly mainstream in terms of Australian society.

Palmer is correct when he says many Australians view sharing copyrighted material online as a cultural activity. An example would be the frequent capture of television news snippets, uploading them to YouTube and then broadcasting them to your mates on Facebook. If you see an interesting news snippet and you want others to see it, this is really the only way to do it; the TV networks don’t provide an easy way to do so.

There is a great deal of grey area between the “piracy is stealing” and “BitTorrent everything” points of view, and it is in this grey area that any substantive and long-term policy on copyrighted works in Australia must reside. The Pirate Party’s views are squarely in the middle of this area; not on the lunatic fringe as many politicians would paint them as being.

One further thing which is worthy of consideration: At least the Pirate Party and the Sex Party will comment on the issue of Internet piracy in Australia. Delimiter has invited the Greens and the Coalition to comment on the matter repeatedly this year, to no response. And the Australian Labor Party, which holds the Federal Government, has merely repeatedly emphasised it wants industry to work this one out itself.

Image credit: Capcom/Nintendo (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney video game). Opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay