Digital Life

Australia's Digital Content Guide - olive branch or slap in the face?

Telling us where to spend our money isn't the same as offering us a better deal on movies and music.

Australia's copyright debate has mostly focused on a piracy crackdown, with little attention given to issues such as legal DVD format-shifting and US-style Fair Use laws. The government's idea of copyright reform is clearly skewed towards protecting the rights of the content providers rather than striking a better deal for Australian consumers.

Australia's new Digital Content Guide is nothing more than a list of local content services.
Australia's new Digital Content Guide is nothing more than a list of local content services. 

Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has some interesting thoughts when it comes to the piracy debate, but actions speak louder than words. The actions we've seen from the government so far, such as the Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper, pay lip service to the idea of ensuring that "content is accessed easily and at a reasonable price" and then focus on harsher penalties and technical countermeasures which are likely to fail.

It seems the only right Australian consumers have is the right to remain silent while we continue to get screwed on pricing and availability simply because we're Australian. Before Aussie pirates turn over a new leaf they need to see the same from the content providers, acknowledging that the movie houses and broadcasters helped create the environment which drove people to piracy and thus must be part of the solution.

Yesterday it looked like we might see a first tentative step in that direction when the industry heavyweights banded together to launch Australia's new Digital Content Guide. The new website is a joint effort from the Australasian Performing Rights Association, Australian Recording Industry Association, Australian Screen Association (formerly the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft), Copyright Agency Ltd., News Corp, Foxtel and Village Roadshow. The site was organised by Music Rights Australia – formerly Music Industry Piracy Investigations.

With all those major industry acronyms backing the Digital Content Guide you'd expect something special. Something designed to address the shortcomings of the current system and convince pirates that content providers are keen to win them back. Something which says the content industry wants to offer Australians a better deal, rather than treat them with contempt. You'd be expecting too much.

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For all the song and dance of the Digital Content Guide launch all we got was a simple website listing legit Australian content services. It's "your guide to finding safe and licensed content" – offering a list of links which you could whip together yourself with a five-minute Google search. It includes Foxtel and Fetch TV along with well-known music and movie stores and the various Catch Up TV services. You'll also find a handful of gaming sites, while the eBook section is still empty.

It's hard to believe that so much effort from so many stakeholders could have produced so little. Some people were expecting the Digital Content Guide to be an interactive site letting you search for specific content such as "Game of Thrones" and see a list of providers and a pricing comparison – similar to the Can I Stream It service for US content. Instead all we got was a glorified spreadsheet with several glaring omissions. The Setanta streaming sports service is missing – a viable alternative to Foxtel for some soccer and rugby fans. Xbox Video rates a mention but not Sony's equivalent PlayStation Store. Obviously the funds were channelled into fancy web design rather than extensive research.

The site is certainly educational – it offers a clear picture of exactly how far content providers are prepared to go to win back people they've driven away. The copyright debate has a while to play out yet, but if anyone cites the Digital Content Guide as evidence that content providers are coming to the party then it's hard to take anything they say seriously.

A single website was never going to completely solve the issue of piracy, but the Digital Content Guide suggests that the industry isn't even trying – safe in the knowledge that the government will always side with big business over consumers.

What are your thoughts on the Digital Content Guide? Is it an olive branch or a slap in the face?

Read more posts from Adam Turner's Gadgets on the Go blog.

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