A few weeks ago someone alerted me to a problem they were experiencing accessing, of all things, an e-book. The e-Book had been purchased in the US, using an account this person set up when they lived there. They’ve now moved back here and – in the course of downloading their apps to a new tablet – discovered a problem.
This is a speech given before the Australian House of Representatives by Federal MP for Chifley, Ed Husic. Husic spearheaded a Parliamentary Inquiry into IT Pricing last year.
This person has a US account for the book app- and an Australian account. On attempting to download their US purchases onto their tablet, a blunt warning appeared on their screen:
“This device is already associated with a (US account). If you download purchases with this account you cannot auto-download or download past purchases for 90 days.”
Remember the days when you could buy a book, read it and pass on that good read to someone else? The only time you had to wait 90 days to read it was if you were waiting on a shipment of a book from overseas. But in the digital age, what happened to reading a book and doing with it what you wanted?
In the information age, things are happening to make it harder to access and distribute information – things like the terms and conditions underpinning e-Books, which has meant that the rights and privileges that previous consumers enjoyed with a paperback have ended with the e-Book. You only enjoy permission to access the book – you don’t own the book in any physical sense. The authors and creative sector will tell you it’s a way of clamping down on the serious problem of internet piracy.
I can sympathise with the argument to a degree. But the sellers have monetised data, squeezing more for their product – the law and international trade treaties let them do this. And the over-reach now appears to extend to people who have legitimately purchased data. They have exchanged currency, purchased an item, they have ownership and they’re still denied access.
Some may argue this is a copyright issue and we need to loosen the digital handcuffs – a term coined by my colleague and friend the Member for Throsby Stephen Jones. I first heard him use that expression during our time on House of Representatives IT price inquiry, an inquiry that generated a lot of attention, especially from Australian consumers who felt they had been taken for granted. Consumers who complained about delayed access to new digital products relative to consumers in other countries – and are slugged up to 50 per cent more for the privilege. Copyright, as I mentioned before, could be the culprit. But there’s a lot to be said about competition law.
Today, nearly a year after this government of slips, trips and fumbles, pats itself on the back for launching yet another review – this time into competition law – let’s look at its track record in the freeing up the restrictions of digital products. The report – “At What Cost” – delivered recommendations to fight this consumer rip off.
Both the electronic and paper version of that report – which urged competition laws be strengthened to better arm consumers – has sat in the office of the new Minister for Communications. He agrees that these type of practices are unfair, stating last year: “I think that as we move into more of a . . . global digital economy, the ability to have different limits on rights and licences from one jurisdiction to another are becoming more futile” Given his apparent supports for liberalisation, he’s been nudged for a response on the report.
Both the Australian Financial Review and The Australian’s IT section have asked when he’ll respond and he said he would do it before the first anniversary of the report being brought down. That anniversary was on July 29. We don’t have a response.
Instead, the government’s busy doing the bidding of big business – obsessed with internet piracy while not taking a serious look at why Australia tops the charts for piracy. Why not take a look at another chart we top: digital product prices? As Communications Alliance advised the IT price inquiry artificial barriers to content, such as geo-blocking, are a ‘classic generator of online piracy’.
Where the big players have made products easier, safer and price sensitive you’ve seen ample evidence of positive changes in consumer behaviour. The best response is to piracy is a market led response – but consumers stand aghast as the market skews towards business.
Business will always give full throated calls for deregulation as long as it can game competition and copyright regulation in its favour. Considering this, my message to the government – on behalf of millions of frustrated Australian consumers – is to stop seeing every one of those consumers as an internet pirate.
Respond to the IT Pricing Inquiry Report, ensure competition and copyright law can unshackle the digital handcuff off Australian consumers. The time for a fairer deal for the consumer is well and truly here – because Australian consumers have suffered long enough.