The Government’s Proposed Anti-Piracy Policies Will Punish Everyone, Fix Nothing

How to stop online piracy? Let's break the internet!

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DISCLAIMER: Erin Turner is the Campaigns Manager at consumer advocacy organisation CHOICE. CHOICE is campaigning for the Government to work smart, not hard, to stop online piracy.

Would you like to pay more for your internet service and get nothing in return? Want to keep paying 50 percent extra for digital content than the rest of the world? Want only one expensive subscription service in Australia where you can access popular TV shows?

You’re in luck, chum. It’s looking increasingly likely that the government’s anti-piracy policy will deliver all this and more!

A few months ago CHOICE warned that the government was considering some expensive and ineffective policies to try and stop internet piracy. Over the next few days lobbyists will be calling on the government to pursue new laws to curb high rates of piracy in Australia, and it looks like the government is going to push ahead with plans that won’t stop piracy but will punish everyone who uses the internet.

A lot is at stake: let’s take some time to look at the situation as it stands, and work out what we can do to stop it getting any worse.

Two Proposals, No Solutions

The Attorney General’s Department has released an official discussion paper with proposals to stop online copyright infringement — in other words, pirates. Responses are due on Monday, but long story short, the government has flagged two potential policy frameworks it would prefer to go with.

First up is “extended injunctive relief”. Translation: an industry-run internet-filter.

Under this policy, content owners like Disney or Village Roadshow would request that a file-sharing or torrenting site be taken down. A court would issue an injunction to block all Australian internet users from accessing that website, and internet service providers (ISPs, like Telstra, iinet or TPG) would then put in place systems to block those websites. Basically, they would filter your internet.

The theory behind it goes like this: an internet filter will stop piracy by stopping people from getting to the sites where they can illegally download content in the first place. In Fact Land, though, it’s super easy to get around any filters ISPs or the government might impose. You can use Virtual Private Networks, Smart Domain Name Systems, browser plug-ins, mirror sites, proxy sites or something else that a 14-year-old with a better understanding of the internet than most bureaucrats could think up in his bedroom. People who aren’t that tech-savvy also have a powerful weapon to learn about all these complicated-sounding options. It’s called Google.

Worst of all, this has been found to fail before; the UK tried a similar filter in 2012 and blocked known pirate bay The Pirate Bay. The result? An extra 12 million visitors went to the site after the ban. There’s also a real risk of blocking legitimate sites; just last year, Australian regulator ASIC accidentally blocked 250,000 perfectly legal websites because it wasn’t quite sure what an IP address was. Super.

The second option the government is exploring is known as “extended authorisation liability”, which is lawyer code for making individual ISPs responsible for policing piracy. In other countries this has required ISPs to issue education (read: warning) letters to people who allegedly download stuff from dodgy sources. If people fail to stop downloading, warnings are escalated to penalties like fines, slowing down your connection speed or cutting off your internet completely until you complete an education course.

The government doesn’t want to define what these penalties should be; they’ve just suggested changing the law so that ISPs have to do some vague thing. ISPs will then negotiate with content owners about what that thing will actually be, but because the law will require all ISPs to take some form of action, all legal power will be in the content owners’ corner when it comes to defining what penalties are reasonable. That should go really well! For Foxtel. It will go really well for Foxtel.

Again, there’s no evidence that this would actually curb piracy; an independent study evaluating similar approaches in other countries found that “there is little to no evidence” that education or warning systems (also known as graduated response) are successful or effective.

With no independent evidence showing that either policy will work, the only guarantee is that adopting either of these options — the internet filter or injunctive relief — will place costs on your ISP, who aren’t likely to generously absorb costs and take a hit for their customers. Most likely, costs will be passed to everyone through increased prices for basic internet access.

Paying more for the Internet? YAAAAAAAY.

Working Smart, Not Hard, To Stop Online Piracy

Earlier in the year CHOICE crowd-funded an ad to raise awareness about all this. Ironically, people generously gave us money for a piece of content we were going to take months to deliver. Today we’re launching a national ad campaign explaining the dangers of the proposed policies and calling on the Government to work smarter to stop online piracy.

Australians pay about 50 per cent more for digital goods already, and we’re pissed off about it. We should be. There’s no reason for us to pay 42 per cent more to watch Hugh Jackman in Wolverine than Americans.

Want to stop piracy? Give us access to affordable content. Give us content at a similar time to the rest of the world. Use the Internet — it’s not new and businesses can’t claim to be surprised by the “disruption” it causes in 2014. Make it as easy as possible for people to pay for what they want.

CHOICE has suggested seven steps to help reduce online piracy. These solutions won’t lead to increased costs for the Internet but they will challenge the business models of Foxtel, Village Roadshow and other organisations that are slow to innovate. But that’s how competition works.

Erin Turner is the Campaigns Manager at CHOICE. She has a Master of Politics and Public Policy, and is a master of watching a TV box set in a whole weekend. She likes to pay for content. She likes it even more when companies make it easy to pay for content.