Australia's piracy crackdown will hurt everyone

You’re about to pay even more to get online in Australia, as major ISPs band together to crack down on internet piracy. Even if everything you download is legal, you’ll still be slugged with the bill – and while the focus is on TV shows, movies and music, video games are next in the firing line.

(Image courtesy Choice)

(Image courtesy Choice)

Australian ISPs including Telstra, Optus and iiNet will tell you that the Copyright Notice Scheme Industry Code is designed to change customers’ behaviour and encourage them to find content via legal means. They won’t tell you that the extra work required to carry out the three-strike policy will increase your monthly fees, whether you’re downloading dodgy content or not.

Of course, if you are downloading pirated shows, films or tunes, you’ll be doubly penalised, hit with “massive fines” and the threat of legal action from major Hollywood studios or international record labels, as part of a plan described as “truly scary” by consumer advocate Choice.

How scary? The first warning under the proposed three-strike notice scheme is a standardised “Education” notice – and these will be sent out to customers who are suspected of illegally downloading content. Following that, a “Warning” notice will appear in the account holder’s letterbox, with a “Final” notice being sent after the third infringement, warning potential legal action and suggesting that the customer “seek independent legal advice”. The notices must be sent within seven days of the infringement, and contain details including the title of the work as well as the time of the download.

Obviously, this is designed to discourage illegal downloads, but what about those things that live in the grey areas of the internet? Abandonware? Bootlegged music (the type not released by the band but not prohibited either)? Out-of-print/unavailable movies? Anyone who’s uploaded anything to YouTube can tell you how easy it is to get a false positive copyright strike – what’s to say the proposed code will be any different?

Choice campaigns manager Erin Turner is less-than-pleased with the current “heavy handed” plan. The consumer advocate has long argued that while copyright infringement is wrong, Australians pirate content due to cost and availability:

There’s still massive delays when content is available in Australia. It’s a market failure. Consumers know this.

(Ms Turner is quick to point out that this finding does not excuse the behaviour, although it does go a long way to explain it.)

In its current state at least – the Copyright Notice Scheme Industry Code, currently in discussion among Australian ISPs including Telstra, Optus and iiNet will “drive average Australians into the court system”, says Ms Turner.

The scheme reads like the script of a Hollywood horror film. It would see average teenagers, mums and dads facing uncapped fines and legal threats. It’s truly scary.

It gets worse. After the three strikes are up, the customer’s name can then be shared with the copyright owner – a Hollywood studio, record company or potentially a game publisher. This “facilitated preliminary discovery process” means that if a customer receives three notices within 12 months, the copyright owner can apply to court to access their details and then launch legal action against them.

The code says explicitly:

Any rights holder whose copyright work has been the subject of an Education, Warning or Final Notice will be provided with assistance to take direct copyright infringement action against an account holder.

Things get really scary when you realise there are no limits imposed on how much (or how often) people can be fined, while ISPs are volunteering to act as “anti-piracy police” on behalf of Hollywood rights holders, acting on unproven allegations.

Similar schemes in place overseas have not seen any great successes – with US customers receiving “speculative invoices” from rights holders. Essentially, Hollywood is skipping over the three-strikes business and going straight for the “Pay this amount of money or we will take legal action” threats. If you don’t think that’s lead to a wave of spam/phishing emails, you’re not thinking properly.

Right now, the Copyright Notice Scheme Industry Code is in draft form, and you are asked to leave feedback and public comment – do you think it’s fair? Effective? Ridiculous? Comment is open until March 23, while ISPs hope to implement the changes by September 1.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Facebook Google+ Linkedin Pinterest Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr N4G Twitter