Illegal downloaders in Australia were promised a slap on the wrist, but have instead been threatened with ‘heavy-handed’ legal action.
On Friday, big companies Apple, Google and Foxtel along with the telco companies unveiled their desired piracy crackdown, which would make it easier for rights holders to pursue legal action against those who download movies, songs and TV shows without paying.
Under the proposed scheme, internet pirates would be warned twice before potentially being dragged into court, which has “outraged” a consumer group.
Australians, who are some of the world’s worst illegal downloaders, were promised “gentle education”, but now face serious legal consequences, said CHOICE campaign manager Erin Turner.
“We’re really worried that what was promised – an education scheme to limit piracy and increase consumer understanding – is just not what is being delivered,” Ms Turner said.
“It’s a heavy-handed, industry-run crackdown with no reasonable protections for consumers,” she said.
Late last year, the government said it had chosen the “least burdensome” way to protect copyright by asking the industry to formulate its own scheme, having ruled out more onerous punishments like slowed internet speeds.
But if the scheme goes ahead, copyright holders would find it easier to apply to the courts for hefty compensation.
Unlike in New Zealand, which sets a limit of $15,000, there is no limit to the financial penalties that judges could impose, possibly including the legal costs of the copyright holder.
In the UK and Europe, some copyright holders have reportedly sent invoices to illegal downloaders, who may feel pressured to pay to avoid a costly legal battle.
Pirates could even be unplugged from the internet entirely, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has warned. This is a potential penalty under copyright law.
ACCAN is “very concerned” that consumers would be cut off from vital services, like online job applications, as a result, said policy officer Xavier O’Halloran.
A focus on education, not punishment, would reap better results, he said.
The biggest concern for ACCAN is the rising cost of internet bills. Both the cost of this crackdown and the government’s proposed new spying laws will be ultimately paid for by consumers, Mr O’Halloran said.
“There are already significant barriers, especially for lower income people, to accessing the internet,” he said.
If a consumer is falsely accused of illegal downloading under the proposed scheme, they will be forced to pay a $25 deposit to challenge once they receive a third and final warning.
The Communications Alliance, which devised the scheme, did not respond to a request for comment. CEO John Stanton has previously told The New Daily that “our industry is willing to contribute strongly to fighting the problem [of piracy], while ensuring that the rights of customers are fully respected”.
Consumers have a month to respond to the proposal.