iiNet CEO: The Copyright Agenda Has Been Hijacked By Studios

David Buckingham is the new CEO of iiNet. His company recently published its submission to the government's copyright consultation process. In this opinion piece he writes about how the internet has completely outpaced the laws meant to safeguard the copyright of content, and wonders why the government has been hijacked by the wild claims of rights holders.

After years of debate, and millions of dollars spent on fruitless court cases, it is clear that copyright legislation has not kept up with enormous changes brought by the Internet. We welcome the review of copyright law and the opportunity to provide input to the Attorney General’s discussion paper, particularly on the subject of online infringement.

Digital distribution of content is embraced where available. Consumers are dipping into their pockets and increasingly buying movies, music, TV shows, ebooks and games. This has then stimulated demand for flat screen TVs, tablets, lightweight net-books, eBook readers and ever-bigger smartphones. These devices allow other economic benefits to flow through to the business sector, as other applications are developed which increase productivity and allow flexible working and mobility.

Digital content is a great driver of sales way beyond the creative sector.

Yet, it is a concern that a raft of misleading claims made by the content industry seems to have gained currency among policy makers and the media. Rather than accept assertions that online piracy threatens almost a million jobs, and other wildly inflated figures around economic impact, Australia should be looking at the evidence.

Level heads must also prevail when describing the millions of Australians who access online content. Comparing minor infringements with theft, terrorism and paedophilia does little to encourage public sympathy with the content industry’s legitimate concerns.

In describing us as ‘the worst pirates in the world’ (another apocryphal claim), rights holders are conveniently ignoring the fact that Australians are willing to pay for quality content. It is rarely reported that Game of Thrones was Australia’s most popular, legally downloaded TV show or film in 2013, or that Australia is only second to the US on a per capita basis in digital consumer revenues.

International experience also shows that as the availability of services like Netflix rises, infringement via P2P technology declines. The music industry, for example, has moved to new business models and great music streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes. Spotify’s Kate Vale said earlier this year access, availability and price does contribute and is the answer to reducing piracy.

iiNet CEO, David Buckingham

One of the proposed approaches floated by the government could extend liability of infringement to anyone providing access to content. Under this proposal, libraries, cafes, schools or any other provider of online access could be found guilty of ‘authorising’ infringement. Investment in infrastructure like public WiFi networks, online, cloud or search services, will be too risky for many investors. Any move in this direction will put our tech sector at a significant comparative disadvantage internationally.

Another option that is being promoted is a three strikes approach managed by ISPs like iiNet. International experience shows that these graduated response schemes just don’t work in reducing infringement. As a former CFO, I follow the money: these schemes haven’t worked, because the content owners aren’t prepared to invest in their administration. If they were genuinely effective, surely the movie and television studios would be happy to throw resources at such schemes.

In fact, content owners are seeking the benefit of any reduced infringement without offering to pay even a portion of the ISP’s costs of enforcement. Our customers would, in effect, be subsiding enforcement as costs are passed on in the form of higher charges, even for non-infringing customers who subscribe to and enjoy legal sources of content.

A leading researcher in this area, Dr Rebecca Giblin has undertaken a comprehensive study of ‘graduated warning’ schemes and concluded the evidence these schemes reduce infringement is extraordinarily thin. In New Zealand, despite massive lobbying, the content owners are simply not using it. In the US, their scheme’s first report provided no data on how the scheme reduced infringement. They are simply not working.

There are things ISPs can do to discourage infringement. As well as making quality content more readily available, iiNet also supports an approach that would starve advertising and subscriber revenue from sites that directly facilitate online infringement. Our own longstanding policy is to diligently avoid advertising our products and services on such websites. If this type of policy was permitted to be adopted across the board, these sites would have little financial incentive to exist.

Australian consumers are well informed. They’re very aware of the content industry’s motivations and control. It is reasonable for consumers to expect an approach from their government, which does not penalise them simply because the government agrees to the content industry’s demands to do it ‘their way’.

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