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Preventing Piracy: Controversial Crackdown on Illegal Downloading

12 Sep 2014

Would you steal a television?

Would you steal a DVD or CD?

The majority of Australians would answer ‘no’ to these questions; and yet Australia continues to lead the world in television, film and gaming piracy. 

And is it any wonder after an analysis by consumer group Choice today reported that popular TV series – such as Orange is the New Black - costs Foxtel Play users $45.45, a 431 percent mark-up compared to US customers of Netflix.

In response to these alarming statistics released by sharing websiteTorrentFreak, the Australian government has recently released a discussion paper on copyright infringement to curb internet piracy.

The paper proposes that rights holders should be able to seek a court order requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to block overseas-based websites - such as the Pirate Bay - whose dominant purpose is breaching copyright.

The federal government has stated, “Australia has one of the highest rates of online copyright piracy in the world. This has a significant impact on Australia’s creative industries, including music, television, cinema, software, broadcast and publishing industries, which employ more than 900,000 people and generates more than $90 billion in economic value each year. The ease with which copyrighted content can be digitised and distributed online means there is no easy solution to preventing online copyright infringement.”

On the same day as the release of this discussion paper, Village Roadshow co-chief executive and chairman, Graham Burke, said its box office takings had plummeted 12 percent in the past month as piracy reached critical mass.

However, internet service provider iiNet has slammed the federal government for referring to online infringements as “theft”, claiming that the new proposed laws will introduce greater risk and serious uncertainty, not only for IPSs, but also for online platforms, schools, universities, libraries, public Wi-Fi operators, NBN Co, and businesses offering internet and photocopying facilities.

Senior lecturer at The University of Queensland, Dr Alan Davidson, who specialises in law and technology, agrees that “there is a massive amount of piracy going on” but believes the industries affected aren’t losing as much money as they claim to be.

“It’s a bit absurd to say that everybody who copies [and downloads] affects these industries. [For example] people who download 10,000 songs: if they actually had to pay 10 cents a song they might only download 100 songs. They only download 10,000 because they’re there,” Dr Davidson said.

“It’s not like the songwriters are losing money because they wouldn’t have sold that many [songs] anyway. People only grab them because they’re free!”

“But there is still some loss to the music [industry]; and the film industry as well.”

Furthermore, Dr Davidson asserts that the best option to stop piracy in Australia is to follow the US’ lead by introducing a ‘take-down notice’ scheme.

“You can’t have [a company], who claims copyright, send a notice to an internet service provider saying we believe these 500 or so people have downloaded [our content] illegally, we require you to disconnect your service to them without any evidence of proof,” Dr Davidson said.

“But there should be some mechanism or process, […] where the internet service provider contacts the party and says ‘you’ve got 14 days to reply. We understand that you’ve [illegally downloaded content]. If we get a notice again we will shut you down.’”

“Hopefully that would be enough. It would also protect the internet service provider [because] they followed the necessary steps [to avoid] breach of contact.”

“If one of my [family members] illegally downloaded [content] then I’d want the chance to write back saying ‘sorry about that. We’re not going to do that again. We’ve remedied the situation.’”

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