<i>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</i>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

In the video store where I worked as a teenager, there were some DVDs and VHS tapes (look it up, kids) that were filched so frequently we started keeping them behind the counter.

They were usually pretty decent films about outsider men, often with guns, drugs and literary pretensions – like Pulp Fiction, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Matrix – which seemed to hold an irresistible appeal to the young, bong-puffing artful dodgers who lived in my neighbourhood.

There were also electronic security gates that would beep if a tagged piece of merchandise passed through them. That was meant to send you leaping over the counter to stop a thief before he could race out with a tape stuffed into his waistband. Being not particularly athletic, I was left merely standing behind the counter shouting helplessly as that copy of Reservoir Dogs ran out the door.

They were very 20th century strategies for dealing with a very 20th century problem.

This week, it was Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull who were trying to lock down the shop wares and take a running vault over that security counter. They jointly released a policy proposal to clamp down on online copyright infringement – namely, film and TV piracy, or ''theft'' as Turnbull calls it. But it’s hard to imagine they will be much more effective at this than I was in leaping the counter.

One of the central proposals in the paper is requiring internet service providers to block sites which host free content. Another is to make it easier for copyright holders to take ISPs to court if they don't take steps to prevent copyright infringement.

This flies in the face of a High Court ruling in 2012 which found the ISP iiNet was not responsible for its customers downloading pirated content. The paper states the government believes despite the court ruling, there still ''may be reasonable steps that can be taken by the ISP to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement''. 

There are some practical problems from the start: lack of evidence that similar overseas schemes have been broadly effective, the ease with which savvy users could get around censorship of offending sites, and fears about the cost burden these laws could create for ISPs. The costs of monitoring and enforcing the new responsibilities could in turn drive up the prices for customers. Turnbull has said he doesn't want to see the cost shifted to the ISPs. Perhaps confusingly, he said he maintains his view that the High Court made the right decision in 2012, and would prefer a system where the onus would be on the rights holders, not ISPs, to take people to court. 

But the bigger issue, which has energised the online community, is the fact the proposals do nothing to address the frustrating issue of expensive, slow access in Australia.

It’s hard to say how many people have engaged in piracy but I would guess it's higher than the 20 per cent estimate cited in the government’s paper, at least among young people. Most people I know aged under 30 have done it in one form or another, even if infrequently and sometimes with moral unease. Many also find roundabout ways of tinkering with local regulations. It is not actually a crime to download content from unauthorised sites for personal use, the Attorney Generals department confirmed, though the copyright owner can take civil action.

In my experience, most people pay where it is readily available, affordable and available on a device they want to use, while resorting to streaming or downloading pirated content or getting around geoblocks – a legal grey area – when the content is difficult or impossible to access.

The same people who might pay to quickly and cheaply download songs from iTunes (even at about 50 per cent higher costs than in the US) might stream a pirated popular overseas show that doesn’t have a release date in Australia. 

I was bored by House of Cards – too much pantomime villainy – but many obsessives get their fix by circumventing geoblocks and subscribing to Netflix in the US. That service, which allows users to pay subscription fees for access to an online ''library'' of content, is still not technically available here. Nevertheless, an estimated 200,000 Australians subscribe, according to an ABC report – proving many are eager to pay for content.

And then there's Game of Thrones, the most pirated show in history, which inspires such fevered devotion among fans that it leaves otherwise serious grown-ups debating the mysterious familial lineage of a fictional bloke who fights ice zombies.

Previously you could buy single episodes week by week, but Foxtel's exclusive deal with HBO put the kibosh on that this year, making it only available to those with a Foxtel subscription during the season's run. Everyone else had to wait to buy episodes legally. Telling Australian fans to wait is kind of like asking footy fans to just catch up on a season's worth of games months later. Shows like this are global events; they're liveblogged and recaps hit the internet within hours. Spoilers become impossible to avoid.

Turnbull himself, while decrying piracy, said on Thursday content owners needed to play their part by ''making content available universally and affordably'', and rightly so. In opposition he passionately advocated global copyright and simultaneous release. But so far the government's actions seem fixated on protecting the interests of copyright holders and not consumers.

As a ''content maker'' myself, I share fears about revenue dwindling in the digital age. Business models are collapsing. But no one should take comfort from strategies that address only one aspect of a complex problem or won't work, as increasingly savvy, and increasingly frustrated, consumers find other ways of watching, reading or listening to what they want, when they want it.