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Australian ISP iiNET, which has long resisted federal efforts to mandate copyright protection schemes, has called on its customers to make their voices known by writing to politicians at the heart of moves to introduce legislation which the ISP says would require ISPs such as iiNet to send infringement notices to its customers while, at the same time, blocking certain websites which provide access for customers to download and share unauthorised content.
Writing in the iiNET blog, Steve Dalby, Chief Regulatory Officer, notes what he describes as “recycled” claims suggesting Australia is the worst nation in the world for Internet piracy. “This may not actually be the case, but there can be no debate that work still remains to be done to effectively combat piracy,” he says.
“The Australian Government is readying legislation, if news reports are to be believed, which would require ISPs such as iiNet to send infringement notices to our customers while, at the same time, blocking certain websites which provide access for customers to download and share unauthorised content. We believe the Government is heading down the wrong path if they’re serious about protecting copyright,” he states.
He says that just in case there is some confusion, “let us state, once and for all, that we do not condone piracy in any way, shape or form,” noting that online piracy, apart from being a breach of copyright, affects the income of the artists and violates numerous trade agreements. “Musicians, authors, film makers or game creators might be hesitant to create new content if they know that the end product will simply be stolen. How would the public feel if producers like HBO decided not to finish George R.R Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series due to the actions of those who simply downloaded his compelling series instead of paying for it? The outcry would be deafening – I would certainly be upset,”he admits.
He notes that following the ISP’s 2012 ‘iiTrial’ success, where the High Court of Australia unanimously dismissed the film industry’s appeal against a lower court decision, absolving iiNet of liability for copyright infringement by its users he predicted that rights holders would make repeated calls for legislative change over time… not taking into account consumer demands. “Nearly two years have passed and my comments seem to be on the mark,” he adds. He says the Hollywood Studios have been relentlessly lobbying the Australian Government on a range of heavy-handed solutions, from a ‘three strikes’ proposal, through to website filtering – none of which take consumers’ interests into account.
According to Dalby, copyright holders have shown that they’re not interested in new models for Australians, despite the success of services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu in the USA (and other markets, including a large number of Australians bypassing these restrictions using VPN).
“Put simply, Australians want their content at the same time as the rest of the world. It isn’t that our customers don’t want to pay for content, it’s that they want to be able to access content at the same time as their Facebook friends or Twitter followers. They want to be able to participate in the global conversation, to talk about their favourite film, or the season finale of The Walking Dead, immediately and without having to pay through the nose to access it,” he says, adding that when Foxtel announced its exclusive deal with HBO to air Game of Thrones (or GoT) in Australia, the outrage was immediate. “Whereas lovers of GoT previously could buy the whole season on iTunes for $24, they are now being forced to be a Foxtel subscriber to view the show, paying at least $44.95 per month for the privilege. It’s no surprise they begrudge being extorted.”
According to Dalby, iiNET thinks that content should be made available to Australians at a fair price and at the same time as it is available elsewhere. “The Lego Movie for example, was released two months after it opened to rave reviews in the USA. Village Roadshow (The Lego Movie’s local distributors) even came out a month before its local release and complained of piracy, while probably not even looking at why it was being pirated,” he observed.
“And that’s the fundamental difference between iiNet and the rights holders. They want to tackle how customers are pirating content. We want them to look at why, and then move forward, addressing the cause, not the symptom,” he states.
He says that iiNET’s customers “obviously” want the content. “The demand is clearly there, but they don’t want be treated like mugs. It’s pretty clear that consumers don’t want to be hampered by delays or excess charges any more. They want access to content immediately, and are willing to pay for it,” he argues, noting the success of Spotify.
To those customers, he says: “Make your voice known. Write to those who are positions of power and let them know what you think. You can start by contacting Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. You can also send your thoughts to politicians engaged in the issue such as Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam,” he advises, suggesting the correspondence points to 2013’s Parliamentary IT Pricing Review, “and ask the government to tackle the known issues such as higher prices and lengthy delays for Australians.”
He concludes by saying that iiNET is still holding out hope that the Australian Government, the Hollywood Studios and other rights holders will deliver a positive solution to the ongoing issue of piracy. “Until that time, we’ll continue to push for a better future for Australian content users, one removed from the constraints being discussed in Canberra.”