Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a big advocate for freedom on the internet, and the freedom of markets. But this morning he drew a line in the sand: Aussies shouldn't download movies illegally, and at the same time, content owners shouldn't gouge Aussies. The solution to piracy according to Turnbull is to make content available quickly and at a fair price. A good idea, to be sure, but how will we get to Turnbull's perfect, pirate-free world?
"I'm a big believer in freedom on the internet," Malcolm Turnbull said in a radio interview today, but added that "freedom on the internet does not mean freedom to steal [content]".
The radio interview was designed to spruik the government's recently released Discussion Paper on copyright infringement. The Discussion Paper on online copyright infringement asks respondents to discuss proposals include overturning the landmark iiNet decision that found ISPs aren’t liable for the copyright infringement of their users, while simultaneously blocking pirate-friendly sites like The Pirate Bay and EZTV.
In the interview, Turnbull was asked specifically whether he thinks that Australians are overcharged by rights-holders for content like TV, movies, music and software, and if that has led to an uptick in piracy rates. Up-to-the-minute research certainly exists saying that's the case.
A new survey out today reveals that we are still being charged the so-called "Australia Tax", which is driving us to pirate content. Research from Essential Media Communications found that 58 per cent of Australians are "concerned" that content isn't available in Australia as quickly as it is in other territories. Additional research from CHOICE found that most of the top movies in the iTunes Store charts are priced higher for Aussies than they are for those in the US.
The research comes a year after a document was tabled in Parliament detailing how to handle the so-called "Australia Tax" once and for all, but so far nothing has eventuated from the report.
Turnbull laughed off the term "Australia Tax" in this morning's interview, but despite the dismissal, Turnbull added that it is time for rights-holders to justify why they are charging Australians extra for their content: behaviour is being used as a justification for piracy.
"People are entitled to sell their products for whatever price they like: the government shouldn't be setting prices here, that's not what I'm saying. But if you want to discourage piracy — and the music industry's response here has worked well — [you should] make content available globally, universally and affordably. You keep on reducing and reducing and reducing the incentive for people to do the wrong thing.
The debate here is for the content owners to justify what they are doing [charging Australians more for content]," he added.
The Discussion Paper certainly mentions pricing and availability as a cure to the spiralling rate of piracy in Australia, but doesn't ask respondents any questions on how they would execute a more open system for content.
Turnbull went on to cover more topics that weren't mentioned in the Discussion Paper that he wants answers on. For example, despite the fact that the Discussion Paper doesn't explicitly mention a graduated, strike-based response to piracy, Turnbull offered up New Zealand's three-strike, anti-piracy system as an example of how he thinks a good system should work:
"There are many schemes around the world and there [is] a lot of controversy about what works. This is a type of thing in New Zealand, for example: where an ISP is advised by a rights-holder that an IP address...has downloaded a movie illegally, the ISP is required to send a notice to the account holder and after three notices, in respect to different violations, it's then up to the rights holder to take that customer to court in order to retrieve damages."
Again, the Discussion Paper doesn't ask for the industry and Australian public to respond to any proposed graduated response scheme, so it's curious to hear the Minister talk about a three-strikes policy being a good idea.
Additionally, Turnbull said that he's still in favour of the iiTrial decision that saw the High Court ultimately decide that an ISP isn't liable for the piracy of its users, despite the fact that the Discussion Paper recommends overturning the decision to stay in line with a soon-to-be-ratified Free-Trade Agreement with Korea.
You can respond to the Government's discussion paper here.