Australian consumer group CHOICE is calling on the Federal Government not to introduce so-called ‘three strikes’ anti-piracy measures, which it says will push Australia into the digital dark ages. Attorney-General George Brandis raised the possibility of measures such as a graduated response scheme and Internet piracy filter, in a speech on Friday 14 February.
In a radio interview February 25, Brandis, who is also Arts Minister, said he would prefer not to introduce a mandatory scheme, but if a voluntary scheme couldn’t be deployed, then such measures would be introduced.
Under a graduated response scheme, consumers receive escalating warnings for alleged infringement of online copyright and may face penalties including fines, reduced bandwidth and disconnection of Internet services.
“Three strike schemes have proven to be ineffective and costly in other countries. They have also undermined the rights of consumers to due process,” claimed CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.
“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,” he declared.
“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,” he stated.
CHOICE welcomed comments from Brandis that the government would seek to engage with Internet Service Providers in establishing a scheme, but stressed that given the very real risks for Internet users, consumers must be consulted as well.
“Any discussion on how to address online piracy must examine how industry can make content more available to consumers. Lack of access to legitimate content is the elephant in the room, and it’s time that industry addressed it in a meaningful way.”
CHOICE is launching a petition urging the government not to introduce a three strike policy.
Interviewed on radio station 5AA, Brandis described Internet piracy as an “increasingly important issue for Australia,” particularly for the entertainment sector. “The fact is that people don’t have a right to download pirate copies of songs or movies or television programmes because the people who make those programmes or other items have a right of property in them. The way artists earn their living is through royalties and that’s the way they are remunerated for what they do. To pirate a video or a song without paying the fee for it through iTunes, and so on, is an act of theft, it’s pure and simple. And the fact that it’s very common, I know it’s a very common practice particularly, I must say, among teenagers, doesn’t make it right.”
Brandis admitted that as Arts Minister, he was lobbied by producers, by directors, by artists, about the matter incessantly, because it is a matter of really great concern to them as they were having having part of their income taken away from them. “They are entitled to their royalties just as a shopkeeper is entitled to the sale price of a commodity to be sold over the counter. So an artist is entitled to the royalty on the creative works that they perform,” he said.
He suggested that the ISPs needed to take some responsibility for illegal downloading because they provide the facility which enables this to happen. “I’m not suggesting for a moment that they’re complicit in it. Now, some of the ISPs have been very, very good and have worked with government and with other arts industry sectors on a collaborative basis to try and develop solutions to the problem. I know that David Thodey of Telstra, for example, has been a very constructive and helpful participant in this discussion. But what I want in the first instance is to get all the relevant stakeholders around the table. There were talks during the period of the Labor Government in trying to address this problem. They seemed to go nowhere. So I do want to restart this process with the ISPs and the rights holders and content providers and government,” he advised.
He preferred not to talk about legislative solutions in the first instance, “because if we can have a voluntary industry based code of practice that is always the best way to go,” he suggested. “And I haven’t, even though the former Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, failed to achieve this, I haven’t given up on the possibility of developing a voluntary industry based code of practice. That will require the cooperation of the ISPs. But there is always the capacity, if that fails, for government to legislate.”
He confirmed that the Government would, during this term, be looking to make significant amendments to bring the Copyright Act up to date. “I would prefer that those amendments not include a mandatory scheme but if a voluntary scheme can’t be developed then they will,” he concluded.