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Government's anti-piracy measures divide industry

Choice and iiNet say the paper won't address the problem, Foxtel calls it a "positive step" -- the Government's anti-piracy discussion paper has already divided the industry.

Image by Jaskirat Singh Bawa, CC BY-ND 2.0

Consumer advocates and one of Australia's leading ISPs have come out to oppose anti-piracy measures that the Government has proposed in a new discussion paper on the issue. However, Foxtel has labelled the paper a "positive step" in tackling piracy in Australia.

Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull officially released the co-signed paper (a week after it was first leaked to the media) outlining measures to combat piracy, including giving rights holders the power to request blocking overseas sites that facilitate the practice.

The paper also indicated that a previous High Court ruling, indemnifying iiNet from the illegal downloading actions of its customers, may be overturned. According to the paper, "there still may be reasonable steps that can be taken by the ISP to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement," even if they can't directly prevent it.

Lack of content is the problem: iiNet and Choice

iiNet has weighed into the debate, with the ISP's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby saying the actions of service providers are not the major issue.

"We have always argued that the lack of access to quality content is the problem, and copyright infringement is the symptom," said Dalby. "From our initial reading, it would appear the draft legislation has been written to protect the content industry, but there is not much information on what the Hollywood studios are doing to improve content availability for the Australian market."

Dalby also raises concerns about the "legal ambiguity" surrounding measures to disconnect offending customers, calling for debate on the issue. He added that the ISP would be making a full submission on the paper by the September 1 deadline.

Consumer advocacy group Choice has joined iiNet in questioning the merits of the Government's proposed measures, saying a "war on pirates will impact all internet users" and that it will result in increased costs for consumers without addressing the root causes.

"Looking at international examples, we know that the policies proposed are high-cost with low results," said 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.

"If the Government is serious about addressing piracy, it needs to consider the driving factors behind piracy in Australia. Australians often find it hard to gain access to content like movies and television, and when they do, they pay far too much compared to consumers in other countries."

Choice says the paper acknowledges the role of rights holders in ensuring easy and timely access to content, but that it "offers no policy solutions to address issues of access to content or the cost". The comments follow on from recent research from Choice that found Australians are still paying as much as 80 percent more for music in Australia compared to US consumers.

"We are not suggesting that better access and more competitive prices are silver bullets that will solve this issue entirely," said Turner. "However they are essential components of any policy looking to reduce rates of piracy in Australia."

"A big media wishlist"

Also joining the call for accessible local content was The Pirate Party, which called the Government's discussion paper "merely a big media wishlist" that does nothing to address issues of affordable content.

"The Discussion Paper is biased towards turning Internet service providers into 'Internet police' and censorship in the form of website blocking, neither of which have proven effective overseas," said Pirate Party president-elect, Brendan Molloy.

He said the Government was pursuing these "unworkable approaches" whilst ignoring "important reforms" such as action on the recommendations of the IT Pricing Inquiry or fair use reforms to copyright law.

"The Government has taken up the cause of the copyright industry lobbyists at an alarming speed, This issue was not on the Government's agenda prior to the election, and it is only since February that the Attorney-General has given a clear indication of the Government's direction on this issue.

"We are looking forward to tearing apart the Discussion Paper."

The role of rights holders

However, one of Australia's leading content providers has reiterated its previous comments that the responsibility for piracy needs to be "shouldered by everyone", welcoming the Government's discussion paper.

"Foxtel acknowledges the comments in the discussion paper that everyone has a part to play in reducing the incidents of online piracy and we look forward to constructively engaging in the discussion of how to give effect to the principles that underpin the Government's position," said Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein.

While Foxtel concedes that "content owners need to make content available quickly and conveniently", it also calls on ISPs to mitigate the use of their services for "unauthorised purposes" and calls on the Government to regulate in order to encourage legitimate use of content.

As far as the cost of the Government's proposed measures are concerned, Malcolm Turnbull believes rights holders should foot the bill, according to Fairfax reports.

"There are some people in the content industry who believe that the costs should be borne in whole or part by the telecommunications sector -- by the ISPs," said Turnbull. "I don't find that a persuasive argument.

"The content owners in the debate that's going to follow this discussion paper have got to justify why they charge more to Australians, why they are not releasing content in Australia at precisely the same time as it's released in the United States or anywhere else in the world."

Update 4:10 p.m. AEST: CNET contacted Telstra (provider of BigPond broadband and 50 percent owner of Foxtel) for comment on the paper, including the practical issues of blocking overseas websites and whether ISPs should be responsible for their customers' behaviour.

"We are considering the paper," said a Telstra spokesperson. "Telstra does not condone online copyright infringement and we encourage the lawful use of the Internet. Any response to this issue must balance the interests of all stakeholders including ISPs and consumers. It should also encourage innovation in the content market and not impede the access of Australians to the legitimate services they want and enjoy on the internet."

Update 4:45 p.m. AEST: Updated to include comments from The Pirate Party.