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Steve Dalby, Chief Regulatory Officer at Australian ISP iiNet, has reawakened the anti-piracy debate by questioning the proposed blocking of file-sharing sites, suggesting that the practice is a multi-headed Hydra that government filtering and legal threats will never slay.
Dalby, a regular blogger on copyright and piracy issues, prefaces his latest contribution, by pointing out that the ISP thinks piracy is wrong, and that the blog is not a ‘how to’ session on copyright infringement, more of an attempt to educate people that think in sentences that start with the word ‘just’: “Just block the pirate bay”; “Just make ISPs responsible”; “Just do something”.
He recommends Australia’s elected representatives learn from the experience of other jurisdictions and do that by examining the evidence; the actual, verified, empirical evidence of what works and what doesn’t.
He suggests that rights holders have been in this tussle for years, the file sharing industry is now global, very sophisticated and totally mainstream. “Techniques have evolved, simplified, monetised and diversified, over the last ten to fifteen years, and many options and alternative distribution models have been constructed. The content industry has not kept up,” he argues. “We know the pointlessness of simply blocking sites like The Pirate Bay, when they can change their address in minutes. The Internet has no gate that we can put a padlock on,” he warns, adding that there are many alternative ways for infringers to access their favourite movies and TV shows online.
“Instead of addressing the reasons why Australians illegally download movies and TV shows, the government instead seems determined to be seen to be ‘doing something’ to ISPs while defending, at all costs, the business model of the Hollywood movie houses. The clear hint from the Attorney General is that his plan includes government-mandated roadblocks for popular BitTorrent search engines like The Pirate Bay, even though these blocks are easy to overcome,” he suggests.
He notes that although it is possible to obtain a minute-by-minute list from the government of all the possible sites, and try and stop the plague of locusts with a can of fly spray, he questions who’s going to keep the list up to date, who’s going to police it, who’s going to pay.
“Search engines have been through their share of legal battles, but they keep bouncing back. Even when a popular BitTorrent search engine does fall, others quickly take its place. Blocking The Pirate Bay and other high-profile BitTorrent search engines will do very little to stop Australians using BitTorrent – file sharing is a multi-headed Hydra that government filtering and legal threats will never slay,” he declares.
He warns that it is simple to bypass whatever roadblocks the government puts in place, with dozens of Pirate Bay proxy services around the world, designed specifically to bypass government-imposed blocks on the popular site, describing using a proxy service as “child’s play, literally. School kids already use proxy services to beat school filtering and access Facebook and YouTube in the classroom. Other people use them at their work desk to outfox their IT department. It may not be right, and we don’t promote it, but let’s take whatever steps we take with our eyes wide open. Let’s not buy into the ‘futility-on-a-stick’ that Hollywood is peddling in Canberra,” he advises. He warns against VPN blocking. “The only way the government could stop this traffic would be to block all encrypted traffic, a Herculean task that even the most determined dictatorships struggle to enforce,” he says, adding that it is “pretty clear” that there is no foolproof way to stop anyone visiting BitTorrent search engines, such as The Pirate Bay. “There’s no possible way the government can block all the ways Australians can access The Pirate Bay and BitTorrent, and truth be told, BitTorrent is only the tip of the file-sharing iceberg,” he admits.
iiNet has positioned itself as a defender of Internet consumer rights, in 2012 winning a High Court battle against a group of 34 film and television companies trying to force the ISP to find and punish users who download illegal content.
Dalby suggests that many people prefer to do the right thing, and they want good service at a reasonable price. “They want to pay for the very desirable content. That’s why many Australians are prepared to sneak into US services like Netflix and hand over their money, even though they might find it all for free elsewhere. The government lumps these people in the same group as BitTorrent users. They want to stop Australians from bypassing geo-blocking, an artificial restraint on trade. Trade covered, ironically, by something called a ‘Free Trade Agreement’, he says.
Noting the ease with which they can bypass geo-blocking, Dalby admits that it is “all but impossible” to police all the ways Australians access foreign content. “Yet the government seems determined to pursue a simplistic and futile content blocking strategy rather than actually addressing the reasons why Australians look elsewhere for their entertainment,” he argues.
“Years of ranting against piracy – while ignoring customer feedback – have got rights holders nowhere. Rather than declaring war on frustrated customers, perhaps we should declare war on the problems which have driven Australians to take their business elsewhere,” he suggests. “And to the content control freaks, we say – start treating your customers as customers, not the enemy, and you might find things improve. It works for us,” he concludes.