Reality check: Piracy is not killing Australian film


This article is by Pirate Party Australia President David Campbell. It first appeared on his blog and is licenced Creative Commons. It is a response to the article “Stop, thief! Your 15 minutes of free downloads is killing a lifetime of great Aussie moments” by former Queensland Premier and independent chairman of the National Association of Cinema Owners, Peter Beattie.

opinion Imagine a world where you can only consume culture from government-approved sources, months after its widely publicised release overseas, in low definition, with long term lease agreements where you can never purchase a copy to own, only to borrow and use within a specific set of technologically locked parameters. Where the freedom to share or own copies of cultural works has finally been stamped out and middlemen are free to charge what they like for mediocre services and innovation is locked in a box then dropped into an ocean abyss.

In global terms Australia is a small market that has powered through the global financial crisis with barely a scratch. Despite having a small and comparatively agile market, our movie and television industries are stuck in the dark ages of broadcast television delays and physical media distribution. They provide limited availability of low-quality advertising supported streaming services and are continuing to ignore the market demand for local content with better availability. They continue to stagnate with the rest of the worldwide movie and television industries. They continue to complain about their biggest fans, the people who statistically spend more money on movies and television than any other demographic, those horrible Internet pirates.

Producing a film in Australia, even after the usual Hollywood accounting, does attract money into our economy, time and time again, despite “rampant” piracy. If a good film is produced it earns millions of dollars. All of the top pirated movies generally do. Online piracy, just like offline piracy which has existed as long as copyright has, hurts nobody, provides free advertisement, and yet has always been used as a scapegoat for Hollywood accountants.

It is unfortunate that too many middlemen feel that the world owes them millions for their continued lack of innovation and rent seeking. Money spent on movies and music continues to rise, despite the global financial crisis and the ever increasing number of online file-sharers. Musicians, software and video game developers are providing new successful and innovative systems for distribution and sales, sports people continue to hit extremely lavish salary caps and the movie industry continues to thrive and pour millions of dollars into anti-piracy campaigns that lobby governments to kill free speech and privacy as collateral damage to profit protection, instead of using that money to innovate and provide a better service than some guys in their basement can do with their spare time. Those same pirates could probably help out if you asked them nicely.

It is not hard to sell timely, high quality releases for a reasonable cost without technological restrictions. Currently Hollywood is earning enough from the old way of doing things to bother with innovative new markets. If it continues to fail at this entrepreneurial level, then it will quickly become irrelevant, replaced by those who have embraced other methods and are already earning money in the Entertainment sector by providing people what they want via subscription, advertisement support or crowd sourced funding.

I find it easy to understand that people would ignore the copyright monopoly in favor of convenient high quality alternatives. Who wants to be locked down to a web connection or forced to jump through hoops when you can watch a pirated version in high definition on the train or at the gym or in bed or anywhere else you like? When you can share the experience with a friend and you can even get more accurate subtitles for hearing impaired viewers and language support for foreign films?

Research was conducted for the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation by Sycamore research and marketing, a partnership between two women that have done all of IPAF’s research since March, 2009 (two months after IPAF formed). Sycamore’s latest report has been compiled from 1654 people. This research found that 10 per cent of Australians were persistent illegal downloaders while 17 per cent were casual illegal downloaders. Unfortunately the research neglected to indicate how much money these illegal downloaders spend on movies and music, feeling this data would be out of scope for such a limited and one-sided study run to provide thinly veiled ammunition for lobbyists taking politicians out to dinner.

Who is IPAF? The Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation is a lobby group speaking for Foxtel, Austar, Motion Picture Association of America, Australian Entertainment Distributors Association, Motion Pictures Distributors Association Australia, Australian Cinema Exhibitors Coalition, franchise Entertainment Group, independant cinema association of Australia, Sony Digital Audio Disc Corporation, Australian independent distributors association and Screenrights. And they support AFACT, another organisation representing Disney, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Village Roadshow, Universal, Warner, and the Motion Picture Association of America. This support is not surprising as IPAF started out life as a side project of AFACT, the IP Awareness Trust, before becoming its own entity in 2009 and hiring a local ex-politician.

In the United States of America there is legal precedence from 1985 stipulating that interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft and infringers of copyright are never referred to as thieves in law, only as committing Copyright infringement, so the very name of AFACT is a charade. As Copyright is a legal statute not a physical item it cannot really be stolen, the custodian of a monopoly on the distribution of a particular creative work, can transfer this copyright however be swindled by others wishing to benefit financially from the work.

Both AFACT and IPAF are fronts to make big media seem more official than they are, when in reality they are simply multinational corporations begging the government to help sustain their business models. Using words like “awareness,” “federation,” “trust” and “foundation” they put forward an authoritative and downtrodden facade, so you feel sorry that they haven’t made enough billions this year. In reality it is merely scare tactics and throwing big piles of money at news outlets and governments to protect their dying distribution monopoly which is no longer needed, no longer wanted, and will very soon no longer provide any benefit to society or culture.

Some research conducted for IPAF found that 78 percent of Australians surveyed had agreed that there were increasing numbers of options to legally lease and stream movies and TV, however none were surveyed as to the ease of use, quality of the services, the cost of the services or timely availability of popular content that is usually pirated, Again for some reason this line of questioning was not considered to be relevant.

One thing is clear: the government needs to protect human rights, and ensure our industry and job market do not collapse, weighed down by patent and copyright war chests. The IPAF continues to not offer a single solution beyond crying Iike a baby when the stagnating business practices of their contributing international movie studio backers continue to stall in a market that demands innovation.

All Internet providers in Australia argue against censorship and data retention because it IS an affront to our Fundamental Human rights. We have a right to private communications, granted by article 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Education is key. Our legislation is not suddenly irrelevant because new technology makes it easier and faster to sell to a large worldwide market, but being a stick in the mud and refusing to innovate in the digital age will prove fatal to a lot of industries, and just as refrigerator owners do not pay an ice tax to the ice importing industry every time they want an ice cube, the citizens with almost free and instantaneous distribution access for digital Content are not to blame for expecting appropriately priced and instantaneous access to digital content.

This is a problem that can be solved easily by innovation and providing customers what they want, instead of wrapping them in chains. Copyright monopoly presents an Important ideal for the moral protection of artists from exploitation by industry, currently it only ensures that. To ignore the problem is to encourage exploitation of artists by greedy corporate entities, and the destruction of privacy and the public domain of creative arts by those same entities.

For no reason at all, this article will now talk about commercial manufacturing and sale of counterfeit goods in an attempt to conflate the issue of commercial counterfeit manufacturing into private copyright infringement and therefore make it sound more like theft instead of a private civil infringement of a commercial monopoly, Pirate Party Australia stand against commercial infringement of copyright and commercial trademark infringement.

Copyright was originally envisioned to protect businesses from exploitation by other businesses and protect artists reputation and earnings. Current copyright law does none of this and Pirate Party Australia is calling for a Reform to Copyright law to protect artists and promote innovation.

If we fail to tackle ongoing corporate lobbying of government officials to destroy our privacy and reform copyright to protect artists and citizens from the marauding monopoly that are the middlemen of Hollywood, we will continue to be forced to watch cheap re-runs of Hollywood discards and any Australian actors of any talent will continue living in Hollywood with American accents. Movies such as Red Dog will not be made as due to a failure to innovate the Australian film industry will die and the future Jack Thompsons may never make it to the silver screen.

Image credit: Promotional shot from the locally produced film ‘Australia’


  1. Hear hear. I’ve always been pleased with the opinion on the matter given by Valve CEO Gabe Newell: “Piracy is a customer service issue.” Turns out, he happens to own the company which has made one of the most successful digital distribution channels the world has ever seen, so I’m inclined to think he knows what he’s talking about.

    Also, this article is attributed to Renai LeMay, not External Contributor as usual with syndication of external content. Looked weird in my RSS feed to see Renai editorialising about copyright!

    • +1. I’ve spent thousands on my steam account over the past 8 years. I think Hollywood is being replaced. I find more interesting things to watch on youtube these days.

  2. We’ll still push out a really good movie every 10 years or so, while the other 9 years out of 10 we’ll release movies like Bait… you know if they’d just called it sharks in a supermarket and made it a comedy it could have been a cult hit.
    But on the topic of piracy, I’m really struggling to think of an Australian film that none of my friends or family own, that I’d feel the need to pirate…

  3. While I agree with much of his commentary, there’s a few things I find a little inflammatory:

    ‘Online piracy, just like offline piracy which has existed as long as copyright has, hurts nobody, provides free advertisement, and yet has always been used as a scapegoat for Hollywood accountants.’

    That attitude, as a STRICT stance, is dangerous. By all means, use piracy as a way of saying ‘what you provide or the way you provide it isn’t good enough’. But imply saying ‘it’s fine, it hurts no one, don’t worry about it, give us better stuff’ is not helpful. Piracy DOES make a difference. Obviously, even IPAF’s own numbers suggest only some 10% do it on a regular basis, so its not a massive majority problem. But it IS a problem. And statements like that appear to ignore it and leave open the idea that pirating anything is all the time. That’s not to say they believe that. But that’s hat that statement brings across to me.

    I agree with a lot of the rest. I just wish someone would do a decent survey on it….UNBIASED. But then, that’d get spun by both sides regardless of the outcome.

    • MPAA says 100% of downloads are a lost sale. Piracy advocates say 0% of downloads are a lost sale. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. And as you say, its a number (and truth) that people are never going to agree on.

      50 years ago Hollywood lost dollars from kids sneaking into the cinema or drivein, but that never stopped them making more movies.

    • I guess it depends on if you are talking about individual lost sales or the bigger picture. Neither argument is provable down to a fine enough grain to be scientific proof, however we have lived with copyright infringement long enough to know that it certainly hasn’t killed music and movies and there is plenty of money being made in the industry.

    • I somewhat disagree with seven_tech there.

      As Neil Young puts it, “Piracy is the new radio.”

      Piracy isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed. See this write-up:

      Particularly scroll right down to the bottom, I’ve linked to independent studies on the effects of file-sharing.

      Just as the advent of mass-piracy has killed off some incumbents, it has created huge swaths of industry and new ways of funding the arts. This is how progress works. The ones who don’t innovate die. The ones who innovate and utilize the current technology of the time to their advantage, prosper. Which means only the artists who think about their business models get to create. The ones who don’t think about it, don’t. Because artists who are trying to make money from their artistry are creating ‘speculatively’. It means don’t spend your time making music if u dont have some confident way to monetize your music, otherwise you might bankrupt yourself. Your labour IS your venture capital. Use it wisely. No? Yes? No?

      Techdirt huge number of case studies:

      • @Aaeru

        Interesting articles. There’s no question a new business model has to be provided/embraced by record companies/ film studios. I agree that piracy can most definitely be a tool if used correctly. But we are a long way from that model yet. Compromises need to be made while record companies etc. have time (or not as the case may be) to adapt to new models. They’ve been earning billions off the old model for decades. They’re not going to change tomorrow. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t or that we should support their old world models. I’m saying far out statements that automatically put these companies backs up doesn’t help.

        We need cooperation and moderation in dealing with it. If they still choose to ignore the trends after that, that will be their loss- others won’t ignore it and will leave them behind. But ‘all piracy is good’ is not, in my opinion, a good stance to soapbox on. ‘All piracy can be a tool’ yes, but not ‘all piracy is good’. There really are millions of people out there who really would rather steal the album if they could get away with it….

  4. “Imagine a world where you can only consume culture from government-approved sources, months after its widely publicised release overseas, in low definition, with long term lease agreements where you can never purchase a copy to own, only to borrow and use within a specific set of technologically locked parameters. Where the freedom to share or own copies of cultural works has finally been stamped out and middlemen are free to charge what they like for mediocre services and innovation is locked in a box then dropped into an ocean abyss.”

    And I stopped reading there.

      • Except of course, it’s not the current state of affairs and it never will be. Even in the most draconian copyright system, where torrenting is death, it’s still nothing more than a fantasy.

        Why someone who’s apparently trying to present themselves as intellectual and calling for reform would stoop to such fear mongering I’m really not sure.

        • @NPSF @ David

          Agree. This is not the case now. Not at all. And this sort of fear factor against Copyright protection is exactly what I was trying to get across. Piracy can be used rather than abused and I agree that many organisations such as AFACT refuse to acknowledge this. But simply saying all those in copyright protection are trying to strip our rights to base levels is simply FUD. Sure, there are zealots, but the vast majority of the industry is just doing it for profit. Not to produce some draconian style of post-apocalyptic rights world.

  5. It is an opinion piece replying to the original article. Please go ahead and tell me where I can legally purchase DRM free copies of Australian movies to own, I am happy to be proven wrong.

    The culture I am referring here in this initial paragraph is of course is Australian films, reading the original article and the rest of mine makes that more apparent.

    • @Daiv

      True you can’t. But using a copy protection removal piece of software and copying the DVD/Blu-ray for YOUR OWN USE is not at all illegal in Australia.

      This, again, is my point. We need cooperation to move beyond the current system and to a better and more open system for all. Not random fear-mongering by both sides.

      • 7T, fairly sure DRM stripping is still a no-no here. Format shifting isnt, and data backup isnt, but the removal of DRM is.

        So while you can back up your movies, pretty much every method that does so strips DRM and is illegal. Catch 22 exists – to follow one law, you have to break another. Which has precedence?

        Our right to have a backup stems from telecommunications law, where its deemed that you can make a backup of any digital data you rightfully own, or a reasonable facimile thereof. And CD’s/DVD’s/blu rays are digital data, hence being allowed a backup.

        Similarly, format shifting has long been legal, mostly because of VCR’s. Theory was tested when ripping CD’s to mp3’s as well, same result. So ripping a movie from DVD/blu ray to avi is also legal.

        But its that pesky DRM that gets in the way.

        While our laws dont clearly cover the situation, the Fair Trade Agreement we have with the US basically means their DMCA laws apply here… Which protects DRM.

        It would be interesting to test here in Australia, as I still expect the DRM laws would be running second given they are based on a foreign agreement and not our laws, but as its never been tested here, its still in limbo.

        I’m wondering how it would go if you were taken to court for downloading an avi of a movie you actually owned…

        • @GongGav

          Yes, you have a point. It is a technicality, but it is still illegal to strip DRM as I understand it. It bring an interesting question as you say I own the entire Stargate series on DVD and would like to watch it again on my tablet. I really can’t be bothered converting it all, so I was considering downloading the avi or similar off bit torrent as as far as I can see, that wouldn’t be illegal because I own it. Although it would probably fall under downloading illegally copied DRM material. It would be interesting to test it in court as you say. I have a feeling the AMCA and ACCC would come in to bat if AFACT etc. kicked up a stink. Twould be very interesting indeed….

          • Coming back to this for a minute, if you see it. One thing that always struck me as unusual is that the people getting caught arent the ones stripping the DRM. A stance never really tested from what I can tell.

            Every case has been about the sharing and lost sales and while there has been the isolated cases where the uploader has been busted, the vast vast majority have been speculative invoicing has targeting the downloader, rather than the one doing the major breach of the DCMA – the DRM bypass.

            Here’s another one for you though. I bought a blu ray, it came with a digital copy. When I went to activate the digital copy, I was told I couldnt. I needed to update my iTunes to version 9.1 or something like that. Pity I was using version 10 by that point…

            Wonder how I’d stand with that behind me. I didnt use Windows Media Player, and wasnt prepared to use it for just that isolate movie. It would be an unreasonable expectation for me to do so as well given my whole media library at the time went through iTunes.

            Second to that, there are plenty of digital copies that come with blu ray that have an expiry date for redemption, not necessarily visible either. What happens if you buy that disc AFTER the date has expired? Earlier blu ray/digital combo’s definitely fall into that category.

          • @GongGav

            Mmmm, there’s ALOT of questions and loopholes in the current laws that haven’t been tested one way or another.

            My thing would be to work with some of the smaller more dynamic firms/record companies/movie studios to USE piracy as a tool, as I’ve said.

            This constant “You’re full of it, I’m right” kind of battle doesn’t actually seem to produce any net results for the consumer…..and meanwhile normal consumers are being ripped off and piracy is still happening unchecked….

  6. I’m more concerned for the actual artists being protected from the multinationals than the multinationals being pirated. It’s obvious the multinationals aren’t going broke because of piracy, so them crying poor is just crocodile tears/spin.

    Artists on the other hand, get screwed over a lot by these companies (especially when they are just starting out). Copyright should be changed so a content creator can not sign their rights to the work they created away, only leased for a set period (2-5 years) with an option to renew.

    • Agree’d, Artists are regularly screwed by current copyright, which is why we push for a 15 year max copyright and better artist protection. Increases the short term value to multinationals and promotes more work bring generated instead of rent seeking.

  7. I couldn’t agree more with your views Renai, I often buy PC games online from Steam which allow me to download the latest titles with in hours of release and be using them at home a short time after that.

    Unfortunately there is no way for me to obtain my movies or tv shows in the same method. Most USA sites use geographical restrictions so i cant get the latest movie or tv episode from them streamed or download.

    When will they learn that there are ‘Pirates’ like me out there whom want to do the right thing and pay for my movies (Hence my massive wall collection of purchased DVD’s) but alas cant due to geo licensing restrictions or lack of local digital distribution services.

    I can have the latest ep of Game of Thrones in HD720P playing on my tv at home with less than a few clicks and a short download wait. Until its that simple and straight forward they will only loose more and more fans to piracy.

    /2 cents

    I wont be holding my breath for any time soon tho……

  8. Wait a minute here. My tax dollars have already been pumped into the Australian film industry, surely no one expects me to pay for that crap twice! If I buy the DVD and then sit and watch it then I’d be paying three times (the last payment being a few hours of my life that I won’t get back).

    In case anyone thinks I’m overly negative, I did buy the DVD for “The Undead” (2003, Spierig bros) which is a very cool movie, not a waste of time at all. Just goes to show that pumping an industry with tax money doesn’t work nearly as well as private enthusiasts willing the throw their own money behind a project (even on a limited budget).

  9. I’ve been asked to address my comments to film and tv.
    The premise of Mr Campbell’s blog (above) is to once again claim the problem with the movie and tv business model is a lack of innovation.
    I own a Panasonic GH series camera. It more or less produces professional quality video.
    I made a mini documentary on it and ‘broadcast’ it on YouTube, with no budget and no help.
    Anyone can.
    A fairly nice, prosumer video set up will set you back around $2k (camera and editing software, plus broadband account). The same goes for my home music studio in fact.
    So to come to my point…..
    We really don’t need to be having this debate. Have we debated at length the rights and wrongs of blogging? Or has society just accepted blogging is a great new way to stay informed and obtain news and opinion?
    Have we debated at length the App industry? Or have we accepted very young entrepreneurs will come up with innovative apps, and many of those entrepreneurs will make a good amount of money selling them?
    So, with a very modest investment, young entrepreneurs can make their own tv shows and movies. In doing so, those of us who are supposedly stubborn about the old business model, and believe in copyright, will be bypassed. become entirely irrelevant. And yet the debate rages on.
    We already know many people between 18 to 35 spend more time on the net than they do watching tv.
    So the tools are cheap, there is no block from ‘the middlemen’, no block from copyright law, and nothing to stop me making a tv programme of my own and showing it on my own website, or through YouTube and Vimeo…… today!
    So why haven’t the traditionalists been bypassed, and why isn’t piracy a non-issue, because more people are watching independent original content made by innovators, rather than downloading episodes of CSI:Miami illegally?
    It seems we continue to engage in the circular argument blaming middlemen and copyright, and never wonder why it’s a non argument, bypassed by all the Gen-Y movie makers using online video.
    Steam gets a perennial mention.
    I don’t game, and I don’t understand gaming.
    But if it was a bit of a no brainer for the wider content industry, surely some gen Y entrepreneur would have hooked up with valve by now, or devised an independent version of Steam for movies and tv.
    Piracy has been a big issue for at least five years (actually longer). So where is the 23 year old Richard Branson, bypassing Fox and Ch9 through DIY production and self publishing. Or developing a steam platform for video distribution?

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