news The Pirate Party Australia has launched a high-profile online petition inviting Australians to protest against two proposals reportedly set to be introduced by Attorney-General George Brandis to Federal Cabinet which could see Australians who pirate content online receive warnings and Internet service providers forced to block file-sharing sites such as the Pirate Bay.
In February this year, Brandis gave a major speech in which he re-opened the issue of Internet piracy. At the time, Brandis appeared to back a scheme proposed by a coalition of most of Australia’s major ISPs in November 2011 which would see the issue of online copyright infringement handled through Australians being issued with warning notices after content holders provided evidence that they had breached their copyright online — and the door opened for ISPs to hand over user details to the content industry if the behaviour continued. iiNet has subsequently pulled out of the scheme.
However, Brandis subsequently upped the intensity of his discussion on the issue. In late February the Attorney-General threatened to introduce legislation to deal with the issue of Internet piracy in Australia unless the ISP and content industries can agree on a voluntary industry code to deal with the issue.
And several weeks ago other elements of the content industry intensified its public pressure on the issue, telling media and marketing site Mumbrella that all options for dealing with Internet piracy were on the table, from court orders to target pirating users, to ‘three strikes’ mechanisms and website blocks.
Brandis had been expected to open public consultation on the Internet piracy issue, following the ongoing debate the Attorney-General opened on the topic in February. However, in an article published yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Attorney-General appeared to have already made up his mind on the issue and would shortly table two concrete proposals to Federal Cabinet. There are reportedly two proposals: “One is internet service providers being required to issue warnings to people who repeatedly download illegally. The other is forcing ISPs to block file-sharing websites such as Pirate Bay.”
The news comes as last month it was revealed that a key lobbyist for the anti-piracy group originally known as the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft enjoys a congenial email relationship with Roger Wilkins, the secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department and other senior officials, with the lobbyist regularly using the channel to pass on anti-piracy propaganda.
In a statement issued yesterday, digital rights political group the Pirate Party noted that it had published a petition on Change.org calling for the Australian Senate to block any legislation Brandis introduced on the issue and “stop blaming consumers for the outdated business models of the media industry”.
Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia, commented: “There has been no evidence advanced that graduated response regimes are effective. In fact, academic literature on the matter has been sceptical that they have any measurable impact on reducing file-sharing [see here and here]. Instead, there is evidence that increasing access to content through legitimate services such as Netflix and Spotify has significantly reduced file-sharing. It has also been shown in an important court decision in the Netherlands that there is yet to be a proven benefit to blocking websites. The Dutch experience indicates that blocking access is ineffective, and not surprisingly people will simply find ways around blockades.”
Molloy continued: “Our petition is intended to remind the Senate of its obligations as the House of Review. It lays out detailed reasons for opposition to the proposals — including that neither will work — and calls on the Senate to reject any legislation instituting either a graduated response scheme or website blocking.”
The Pirate Party pointed out that in 2012, then-Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had stated: “… you’ve got recognise that the minute Game of Thrones or any other show is put to air, it will be available globally. So the owners of that copyright have got to be in a position where it can be released … through the iTunes store or various other platforms at the same time … all they are doing is throwing money away by not making it available instantly.”
The Pirate Party said it believed Turnbull had hit the nail on the head with regard to copyright infringement. The Party’s petition asserts that providing access to content in an “effective and timely manner” will solve the market failure that currently exists in Australia.
The petition also draws the Senate’s attention to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) report titled “Copyright and the Digital Economy” and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications’ Inquiry into IT Pricing. While the issue of file-sharing appears to be on the Government’s agenda (despite receiving no attention pre-election), there has been limited to no movement on either reports.
The ALRC’s report recommended the introduction of a fair use exception allowing greater flexibility for people to legitimately use copyrighted materials in certain cases, while the Inquiry into IT Pricing found that Australians were paying on average 50% more for digital content (professional software, music, games and ebooks) and 46% more for hardware when compared to the United States.
Molloy said: “We urgently need our representatives to consider areas of copyright reform that actually matter. The Australian copyright system is clearly not working the way it should. We have all of the negative aspects of copyright law from around the world, and very little of the positive relief mechanisms. Under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, for example, we extended our copyright term to life + 70 years — but we didn’t import fair use, which is a necessary balancing mechanism for US copyright law. Google has stated that it could not have started in Australia because our law is not flexible enough. We are missing out on massive economic advantages and technological advances by refusing to modernise our legislation.”
“Geographical market segmentation is causing Australians to pay more for digital content. Is it any wonder Australians are called “the world’s worst pirates” when we are paying significantly more than everyone else? Surely these issues are more deserving of attention than attempting to introduce schemes that have been proven to be ineffective?”
Consumer group CHOICE has also recently severely criticised Brandis for his comments re-opening the Internet piracy debate, and particularly his mention of a “graduated response” scheme, which could see users hit with a series of warnings before facing penalties for copyright infringement.
“Three strike schemes have proven to be ineffective and costly in other countries. They have also undermined the rights of consumers to due process,” said CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland in a statement. “If implemented in Australia, these measures would push up the price of internet access without any impact on piracy.”
“Nobody supports internet piracy but punishing consumers is not the answer. The best way to stop piracy is to make it easier for Australians to pay for content like movies and television series at internationally competitive prices. The main driver of piracy is frustration, as Australians look overseas for flexible, affordable and timely content. Piracy in Australia is driven by a market failure, plain and simple. The Government should be embracing the internet as a source of innovation and development, not restricting it.”
In addition, the news also comes as content distributors such as Foxtel have recently made it significantly more difficult for Australians to access premium content without potentially infringing copyright. In early February, for instance, Foxtel signed a deal with US cable TV giant HBO which will block the popular Game of Thrones show from airing through any other medium than Foxtel — at all — apart from DVD release. The news resulted in record local piracy rates of the latest season of the show.
It’s up to you if you want to sign the petition or not. Personally, although I have signed it, what I want is a public inquiry on this issue. The topic was explicitly excluded from the ALRC’s recent Copyright review and neither the past Labor nor the present Coalition Government has actively sought public submissions on this issue. I think it is an abrogation of our rights for that not to occur before any sweeping legislation change in this area.