Digital Life

Piracy crackdown misses the real crime

Hollywood demands government help so it can keep ripping us off.

The leaked Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper, obtained last Friday by news website Crikey, is pretty much what we expected from Australia's federal government. The opening statement pays lip service to ensuring that "content is accessed easily and at a reasonable price". The rest is dedicated to outlining harsher penalties and technical countermeasures which are doomed to fail.

It would be great to see Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull jump to the defence of Australian consumers – whom they supposedly represent – as quickly as they jump to the defence of the powerful copyright lobby group. Advice from Google and others that piracy is primarily a "pricing and availability" issue has fallen on deaf ears, the government would rather listen to the likes of Village Roadshow.

The Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper feels like the work of a government which wants to be seen to be acting, rather than a government which actually wants to address the underlying problem. Where's the discussion paper considering the impact of this year's Foxtel Game of Thrones deal on consumer choice, or what might happen if Murdoch gains control over both HBO and Foxtel?

While we're at it, where's the discussion paper considering the role of parallel import laws in the digital age and the impact of geoblocking on consumer price gouging when it comes to entertainment? Last year's IT pricing enquiry had a lot to say about Microsoft and Adobe but very little to say about Hollywood.

Just like region-coding on discs, geoblocking exists so movie studios can get away with offering Australians less and charging us more simply because we're Australian. Rather than addressing this issue, it seems the government is happy to support a ban on circumventing "technological measures" – which might include geoblocking – as part of the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

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It's been explained time and again how easy it is to bypass any technological countermeasures put forward to thwart piracy and geo-dodging. You don't need to be a geek to master the use of proxies and Virtual Private Networks in order to side-step the internet service provider-level site blocking proposed in the discussion paper. There are even browser plugins which let you beat site filtering with a single click.

Most people are prepared to do the right thing given the chance, unless they feel like they're being ripped off. Content providers have been screwing Australians for years. Now that consumers have finally found a way to fight back, the industry is demanding government help so it can continue to screw us.

Rather than put up laughably ineffective roadblocks to appease its powerful friends, the government would better serve the people by addressing the reasons why we break the law. Until it does, people won't respect rules which are designed to ensure that Australians are treated as second-class citizens.

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

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