news A decision by Australia’s third-largest ISP to pull out of controversial secret talks with the content industry over Internet piracy issues has attracted international attention, with global commentators and readers highlighting the ISP’s approach as a sensible one to dealing with litigious film and TV studios.
Thoughout 2011 and 2012, the Federal Attorney-General’s Department held secretive closed doors discussions between a number of Australian ISPs and representatives of the content industry such as film and TV studios, with the aim of finding a resolution to the ongoing issue of Internet piracy. The department has rejected a number of attempts by external parties to make the talks more transparent, such as responding only minimally to Freedom of Information requests dealing with the talks.
iiNet had always appeared to be a relatively reluctant participant in the talks, given that its 2012 High Court victory against the content industry meant that it was under no obligation to cooperate voluntarily in helping the groups police illegal downloads of their content. And in late December, the group’s chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby announced the group would take a further step and pull out the talks entirely.
“We’ve continued to participate in these talks, even after the landmark High Court ruling in April, when the High Court firstly, unanimously dismissed the claim that iiNet was authorising copyright infringement by its customers and secondly, made it clear we had no obligation to the rights holders to harass our customers,” Dalby wrote in a post on iiNet’s company blog.
“While we appreciate the efforts of the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) to draw the parties together and thank the AGD, Communications Alliance and the other companies who have persisted with the discussions, the time has come for us to make it clear that we won’t participate in a notice-notice trial on which the talks now focus,” he added, noting a variety of reasons for iiNet’s decision — revolving around the idea that the content industry needed to move forward in terms of opening up online access to its content — not moving back by merely trying to police out of control downloads enabled by the changed technology environment.
iiNet’s decision was widely reported locally, but what Australia’s technology community may not have realised was the degree of international attention the move attracted. One of the first international news outlets to report the move was US site Techdirt, one of the main global sites reporting on the ongoing battle between traditional copyright owners and today’s generation of Internet-connected consumers.
Techdirt commenter Mike Masnick wrote: “The problem, of course, is that the entertainment industry still doesn’t understand what’s happening. They flat out reject the idea that piracy might be due to their own unwillingness to embrace the internet and provide more content, in more convenient ways at better prices … It’s nice to see iiNet call them out so directly.” In addition, a number of Techdirt commenters from other countries such as the US, the UK and Canada suggested that it might be beneficial for ISPs from their countries to follow iiNet’s lead.
A similar article on file-sharing news publication Torrentfreak was notable for how many comments it attracted largely praising iiNet — with over 300 comments debating the issue. “This is the only ISP in the world that is standing up to these bullies,” wrote one commenter. “The only ISP that cares for its customers. Request everyone in Australia to switch to iiNet,” wrote another. And a third said: “Now it’s time for all of the isp’s around the world to do the same.”
It was a similar situation on global technology news aggregator Slashdot, where a number of readers noted they supported iiNet’s stance. “My congratulations to Australians for having an ISP that stands up for the interests of its customers,” wrote one commenter. And on another global aggregator, Reddit, TorrentFreak’s article was linked and received more than 4,000 up-votes by readers, with almost 1700 comments debating the issue.
“iiNet have been the voice of reason in Australia for years now,” wrote one commenter on Reddit. “We need these guys in the US,” wrote another, and a third: “If anyone in Australia is not using iiNet, please switch. I would sign up for iiNet right now but I don’t think they provide service in North America.”
In all the comments on the various sites, it was difficult to find comments supporting the content industry’s stance that those who download content illegally on the Internet should be identified and made aware of the illegal nature of their behaviour, or fined or prosecuted. In general, the overwhelming sentiment expressed across the various sites was that the content industry wasn’t doing enough to make its content available online at a reasonable price and in a technical format that would allow customers to purchase and consume it.
Some commenters, however, did point out that there are currently some platforms, such as Apple’s iTunes platform and the Hulu streaming platform internationally, or the Quickflix and FetchTV IPTV and video on demand platforms in Australia, that did allow customers to buy content online.
iiNet itself appears to be aware of the international attention which its move has caused. “Interesting to see the international coverage of this issue reflects some of the similar frustrations suffered by consumers elsewhere,” wrote Dalby in the comments underneath his blog post in December.
Of course it’s not surprising that commenters on sites such as Slashdot, Reddit, Techdirt and Torrentfreak are supporting of iiNet’s move — being a reader of those sites for many years myself, I am fairly confident in saying that their readers tend to be quite libertarian when it comes to their views on government and corporate control of what happens on the Internet. The general view of most of these readers on these sites would appear to be that big business and government should either ignore what happens on the Internet or cooperate with it, rather than try and fight and control it.
But what I found quite startling was how unusual iiNet’s move was perceived as being. Globally, it appears that very few ISPs of any size are standing up to the content industry on behalf of their customers and demanding better services for those who simply want to get legitimate access to desirable content. In this vein, iiNet’s actions and approach to the situation in Australia would appear to be positioning it as a global leader in these matters, at least in the eyes of customers, if not in the eyes of the content industry.
There’s a recurring meme in Australian corporate and political circles that espouses the view that Australia is too small and too remote to lead the world in most areas — so we should merely attempt to replicate locally best practice from overseas. But perhaps the fabled Australian rebellious attitude that so many believe dates back to our convict days has some uses after all: It seems like iiNet’s unwillingness to simply bend over and let Big Content target its customers has positioned Australia out in front in at least one field.
Image credit: iiNet