Australians have become so addicted to illegally downloading online material that it is now considered perfectly normal, says one of the country’s leading copyright law experts.
“It’s become normalised to pirate,” said Professor Michael Fraser, Director of the Communications Law Centre at Sydney’s University of Technology.
“To me that is a shocking thing. That people who would never dream of shoplifting a CD now think that it’s normal.”
Online copyright infringement has been placed in the spotlight on the back of a new discussion paper released this week outlining aggressive measures to counter escalating piracy.
The paper looks at how to force Internet Service Providers to take responsibility for cracking down on illegal downloading.
Measures include ISPs sending messages of infringement and being able to block people accessing a site containing infringing content; and making it easier for content creators to take action against an ISP that has allowed an infringement to take place.
Australia’s copyright industries employ 900,000 people that pump $90 billion into the economy, the discussion paper says.
It states Australia has one of the highest illegal download rates in the world.
Could consumers pay more?
Consumer advocacy group Choice has questioned the strategy, claiming Internet users are likely to feel the brunt of any costs associated with addressing the problem.
“Looking at international examples, we know that the policies proposed are high-cost with low results,” says Choice Campaigns Manager Erin Turner.
“Similar policies in France and New Zealand have cost significant amounts of money. Our fear is that a high-cost system will lead to all consumers paying more for the Internet.”
However, Professor Fraser endorsed the paper’s ambitious aim, highlighting the need for all sectors of the supply chain to come together to stamp out piracy, while also ensuring consumers get good access to content legitimately and in a cost effective way.
“The current situation is untenable. You can’t expect rights owners to try and manage their rights individually with millions and millions of users.”
Professor Fraser conceded that ISPs enforcing a more secure and lawful environment could mean costs are passed on to the consumer.
“It may be that in order to mount a system like that and educational campaigns…will add some cost for consumers,” he said.
“But that would be part of a legitimate business cost of ensuring access to content is done the right way.
“The alternative is to have an Internet that’s a free for all where the laws don’t apply.”
Piracy measures around the world
The discussion paper considered several models used overseas.
In the US, infringement notices are sent to illegal downloaders, the first two being educational and the third and fourth advising that mitigation measures could be applied including reducing Internet speeds.
In New Zealand, content creators can send three escalating notices of infringement to an ISP, which then forwards it on to their subscriber.
After the third notice, the content creator can make a claim to the Copyright Tribunal seeking an order for compensation up to $15,000.
Professor Fraser says while similar measures are being pondered in Australia, blocking people from using the Internet has thankfully not been put on the agenda.
“It is clearly ruling out the idea that consumers should have access to the Internet blocked as some kind of punitive measure.”
Are Australians paying too much for content?
Choices’ Erin Turner says the government must consider the driving factors behind piracy in Australia.
“Australians often find it hard to gain access to content like movies or television and when they do they pay far too much compared to consumers in other countries.”
The Communications Alliance, whose members include Australia’s major Internet Service Providers, said online copyright infringement was a complex issue.
“We believe that for any scheme designed to address online copyright infringement to be sustainable it must also stimulate innovation by growing the digital content market, so Australians can continue to access and enjoy new and emerging content, devices and technologies,” Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said.