Senior government ministers charged with cracking down on internet piracy have opted to ban foreign piracy websites rather than targeting Australian copyright breakers individually.
From early 2015, Australians who download pirated copies of their favourite TV shows and movies will receive only a slap-on-the-wrist warning under reforms to industry codes and copyright law proposed jointly by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis.
Internet service providers will be required to issue written warnings to repeat offenders, rather than imposing slower internet speeds as some media rights owners had hoped.
“The Government has sought the least burdensome and most flexible way of responding to concerns about online copyright infringement, while protecting the legitimate interests of the rights holders in the protection of their intellectual property,” said the ministers in a joint press release on Wednesday.
Copyright holders will be able to apply for a court order to block overseas piracy sites under the reforms. Existing laws already allow them to sue illegal downloaders directly, but most companies are loathe to do this because of high costs and negative publicity.
Communications Alliance, which represents internet service providers, has welcomed the reforms, pledging to implement the written warning scheme.
“We support the balanced approach that the Government has taken to what is a serious issue in Australia,” said Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton.
“Australia’s ISPs do not condone or authorise internet piracy and our industry is willing to contribute strongly to fighting the problem, while ensuring that the rights of customers are fully respected,” Mr Stanton said.
But consumer advocate CHOICE is not satisfied. Spokesperson Erin Turner told The New Daily that the proposed reforms would be the “wrong solution for the wrong problem”.
Most Australians do not want to unlawfully download, but are driven to it by the business models of the content providers themselves, CHOICE said — a claim it backed up with data.
Half of pirates claimed their behaviour was motivated by the high price of the content, CHOICE found.
Another 41 per cent of the 488 pirates interviewed by CHOICE cited “timeliness” as a reason, the survey published in November reported. A further 23 per cent said the copyrighted content was not available elsewhere, prompting them to turn to unlawful downloads.
The communications minister has acknowledged that high costs and unavailability “incentivise” copyright infringement, but has taken a hard line on those who illegally download, likening them earlier in the year to criminals.
In July, Mr Turnbull told ABC radio that downloading a movie without paying for it is “simply theft”. On his website, the communications minister described the practice as “illegal” and compared it to stealing a car or groceries.
But after receiving submissions from the public, consumer groups and copyright holders, the government seems to have switched its focus to the websites that host pirated movies and TV shows.
Under the proposal, internet service providers could be forced to block these popular overseas file-sharing websites — a measure that would “not be very hard” to navigate around for those who are “technologically adept”, a communications law expert told The New Daily.
UTS Communications Law Centre director Professor Michael Fraser said these “parasite” websites are “sucking the life out of the industry”. VPNs and other methods could easily be used to get around the blocks, but he predicted that “the mainstream” would not want or know how to do this.
“In general, there is an understanding that these pirate sites are not lawful and they are parasites who are making millions out of other people’s creative work but don’t return anything to the creators,” Professor Fraser said.
Communications Alliance told The New Daily most Australians are willing to pay for entertainment if it is available quickly and affordably, but content providers are letting them down.
Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said there is a “great temptation” to download content that is not legally available, and content providers must “step up” and “look afresh” at a business model that blocks legal access to films and TV shows months after they debut overseas.
“It’s not the whole problem. There are some people who simply don’t want to pay. We shouldn’t deny that, and that’s wrong. But there are many others who are willing to pay but don’t find themselves able to access the content. While that doesn’t justify their actions in downloading it improperly, it does go some way to explaining it,” Mr Stanton said.