“It’s a cage; it’s keeping money out … they think they’re keeping money in, but they’re keeping it out.”
With one simple analogy, US comedian, Louis CK, hits the nail of internet piracy right on the head.
A guest on US satellite radio program, the Opie and Anthony Show, CK’s comments on creating and distributing content digitally have resonated around Australia like a gong.
This comes at a time when the world is pointing a finger at Australia, identifying us as the number one nation of pirates. If recent torrenting download figures are to be believed, we are.
Approximately 16 per cent of the 17.3 million internet users in Australia – 2.8 million users, according to figures from Nielson Online Ratings – visited The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents, two of the biggest websites for torrent downloads, in the month of May.
According to Foxtel, almost half a million Australians were there to steal episodes of the latest season of the HBO fantasy-drama, Game of Thrones, of which the media giant holds exclusive rights to air within Australia. That’s right. You won’t see it anywhere else, except Foxtel.
But consumer groups are not surprised by the public’s actions.
“[Foxtel] expects people to pay for a whole range of products when they may want [just] one. You’re getting Real Housewives of every city, rather than just Game of Thrones, which you want,” said CHOICE’s Erin Turner, in a recent interview with the ABC’s 7.30.
In the interview, Turner also stated that Foxtel “has an outdated business model” and that “ultimately the problem is, there are few competitors to Foxtel in Australia.”
Pay TV – not the consumer’s friend
For anyone who has sought flexible access and pricing for entertainment content, this will come as no surprise.
For decades, we have been plagued by content delivery deals that place Australia last in the pecking order, bowing to companies that control the flow of programming in and out of our country, according to old (read: analogue) distribution and delivery models.
We had little choice but to submit. For those who could afford it, some measure of choice could be found in pay TV services, like Foxtel.
However, for the majority, free-to-air TV was their only avenue for news, entertainment and education.
Then BitTorrent technology – also known as peer-to-peer file sharing, or simply torrenting – was invented.
Placed in the hands of a public starved for choice, this technology exploded. Music and video files could be shared across the globe, with corporate bodies stumped as to how to control or regulate the practice. A lawless wild west of unregulated content sharing descended upon movie studios, record companies and production houses across the world.
From its early days, incarnated in websites like Napster (v1.0), torrenting is now an international phenomenon.
It’s also the go-to bad guy when needing a reason for the supposed decline in business, or worse, the justification for tightening trade agreements between nations.
Every day, governments are being strong-armed by the entertainment industry’s heavy hitters, who seem to have no problem bending statistics — a portion ironically gleaned from torrent news and culture websites — to suit the agenda du jour.
Remember how illegal torrenting was apparently killing the cinema industry a few years ago?
Let’s look at the actual figures. A 2013 report by the Motion Picture Association of America showed that international box office for the five years leading to that point had increased 33 per cent.
The Asia Pacific region, of which we are a part, led this growth with a whopping 55 per cent increase since 2009 ($7.2b), earning pole position for box office gross in 2013 ($11.1b).
In that year, Australia alone contributed more than $1.1 billion, or about 10 per cent, to the region’s box office growth.
In other words, for a nation of pirates, we’ve contributed to the largest growth in revenue the world of cinema has seen in a number of years.
Foxtel vs piracy – who’s winning?
Evidence from Australian internet media streaming services, such as Quickflix, appears to contradict this so-called threat to the Australian media industry.
The content provider has seen annual growth of 24 per cent over the last two years, with more than half of that traffic taking the form of streaming media services, being TV and movies on demand.
When Attorney-General George Brandis states, “Australia … is the worst offender of any country in the world when it comes to piracy,” he’s neglecting to mention this so-called threat to the industry has no basis in fact.
Yes, an enormous amount of Australians visit torrent websites.
Yes, an enormous amount of Australians illegally download music, video, software and games, thereby infringing the rights of copyright holders.
Yes, an enormous amount of Australians are denied access to even moderately-priced entertainment content, like pay TV and on demand services. It can’t be any clearer.
But the real collateral damage of our pirating habits is a threat to the revenue of companies like Foxtel, not the Hollywood studios or TV production companies that Australians are clearly supporting via box office receipts or legitimate media streaming services.
We, the Australian people, are crying out for an easily accessible system, which addresses the need for viewing flexibility, is reasonably priced and won’t make us pay for content we won’t ever watch. There are systems like this (*cough-Netflix-cough*), but, as always, it appears Australia is being left behind the rest of the world.
Instead, the constant refrain is more along the lines of, ‘No, you can’t have that, because we will lose too much money,’ (Foxtel’s response to the concept of providing choose-your-own channels, rather than set bundles). History has shown that companies engaged in such marketing myopia are doomed to fail.
In a nutshell: Key players in the Australian market would rather protect their paywalls than tear them down and embrace advancing technology and lifestyles.
At present, the threats and accusations from industry and government ring hollow, relying on intimidation tactics to force ISPs to enact a ‘three strikes’ policy before spanking repeat offenders with the ban paddle.
But the focus of these actions has but one outcome – penalties, not solutions.
As the saying goes: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
The New Daily does not condone copyright infringement, but does approve of consumer education.