Will pirates be walking the plank?

16 March 2015

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The federal government has been pushing for tougher anti-piracy laws for some time now. With the April deadline given to internet service providers (ISPs) quickly approaching, you may be wondering what effect the government’s proposed laws will have.

Under the proposed laws, ISPs will be forced to send warnings to customers who are deemed by copyright holders to be sharing content illegally. This is done by logging IP addresses.

Once a customer receives three warnings within 12 months, the copyright holder can make a request to the ISP for their personal details. After this, the copyright holders can choose to either take legal action or send them threatening emails asking for payments, as they have in the past.

Consumer group Choice has slammed the proposed laws, calling them a “heavy-handed, industry-run crackdown”. Despite this, the laws are unlikely to have a large effect on Australia’s notorious piracy rates.

“It might stop casual pirates, but it won’t be too hard for people to beat the system if they do a little research,” Sydney Morning Herald technology columnist Adam Turner says.

“Pirates will either need to mend their ways or be more effective at hiding their tracks.”

But why is piracy such an issue in Australia?

People hold many misconceptions about piracy. It’s not just young people or those who wish to avoid fees who pirate. In fact, people with a university degree or those whose annual income exceeds $120,000 are more likely to pirate than the general population.

“Research indicates that people don’t download just because they can’t afford to pay – most pirates also pay for some content and quite a few have pay TV,” Mr Turner says.

Australia is often called a victim of international price discrimination. This means international businesses charge Australians more for a product or service because there is nothing to stop them from doing so.

For instance, a song on iTunes can cost an Australian up to 50 per cent more than an American, even after factoring in the exchange rate.

Australians could be pirating content because they are now aware that they are being charged more than they should be, but it could also be due to accessibility.

“Piracy is more about easy and timely access to content,” Mr Turner says.

“The best way to fight piracy is to offer people a better deal on content rather than make it harder to steal.”

Australian economists Professor Henry Ergas and Professor Allan Fels suggested in a submission to the government that the proposed anti-piracy laws would lead to a price increase in legally downloadable content.

“The increase in non-infringing demand is likely to increase the price the copyright holder can charge, making legitimate consumers worse off, which in turn increases the incentive for piracy, offsetting the effects of stricter enforcement,” they argue.

The recent launch of streaming services Presto and Stan in Australia, as well as the upcoming debut of Netflix, suggests that the need to combat piracy has forced rights holders to make their content more accessible to the Australian public.

Does this mean that without the threat of piracy, rights holders will no longer endeavor to make their content affordable and accessible?

Mr Turner suggests this won’t be the case. He says he “couldn’t see prices going up, or legit online services closing, just because there is a crackdown on piracy”.

Ultimately, the proposed laws will do nothing to fix the accessibility and affordability issues at the root of Australia’s piracy problem.

“No technical restriction can ever completely eliminate piracy,” Mr Turner says.

He argues a solution to piracy “needs to come from the content industry, because the government seems to have little interest in striking a better deal for consumers, it just wants to protect the interests of big business”.

It is up to the rights holders to reduce piracy in Australia by addressing the problems they are causing.


Ethan MillerEthan Miller is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @ethanmiller1994.