Digital Life

Sue mum and dad pirates, Malcolm Turnbull tells film studios

Film studios and other content creators should sue “mums and dads and students” who download pirated content, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull says.

Although doing this will be unpopular, he said it would help curb piracy.

Turnbull: 'Sue mums and dads and students'

Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull tells Sky News that copyright holders should use the courts to protect their content from Australian internet pirates.

Mr Turnbull's advice on how to tackle online piracy came a day after he said any costs to crack down on it would need to be paid for by the content industry, not internet providers.

“... It is absolutely critical that rights owners have got to be prepared to actually roll their sleeves up and take on individuals," Mr Turnbull told Sky News in an interview uploaded on Thursday evening.

Malcolm Turnbull says studios should sue individuals.
Malcolm Turnbull says studios should sue individuals. Photo: Rob Homer

“Being characteristically candid and blunt with you, rights owners are not keen on taking people to court because it doesn’t look good, because it’s bad publicity.

"They have got to be prepared to sue people; sue mums and dads and students who are stealing their content. They can’t expect anyone else to do that for them.”

Mr Turnbull said suing some users would make an example of them and therefore reduce piracy.

“The bottom line is ... the rights holders are going to have to be tactical about who they take to court, about who they want to sue,” he said. “... And what you do as you raise awareness of this – that there is a risk that they could be sued and have to pay for what they have stolen – then the level of infringement and theft will decline.”

Village Roadshow co-chairman Graham Burke says suing individuals is impracticable.
Village Roadshow co-chairman Graham Burke says suing individuals is impracticable. 

But Village Roadshow co-chairman Graham Burke said suing individuals wouldn’t work and “would clog up the courts”.

“New Zealand has proven that that is ineffective and also the music industry has had a bad experience [with it],” Mr Burke said on Friday.

“New Zealand has graphically demonstrated that with the music industry, after spending a fortune for a small market on lawyers and legal costs, and taking often up to 18 months to go through the court system, et cetera.

"We’re either serious about stopping piracy or we’re not.”

In 2009, in a high-profile digital piracy case, a US jury ordered a 32-year-old woman to pay $US1.92 million ($2.07 million) in damages for downloading 24 songs.

Since then, the music industry has gone to extra lengths to makes its content more available online and at an affordable price through streaming sites such as Spotify and for download on services such as Apple’s iTunes and Google's Play store.

The music industry has also moved towards global release dates rather than regional ones, which has left people no longer having to wait to buy new music in Australia.

But the movie industry insists on keeping a 120-day window, known as the “piracy window”, between the release of a movie and the time it is available on disc or for download.

It says to remove the window will decimate the cinema business and the experience that goes with it. And although the window is coming down to 90 days for some films in Australia, it’s unlikely to ever get to same-day download, according to Mr Burke.

Mr Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis on Wednesday released a discussion paper on online copyright infringement containing proposals to tackle the downloading of pirated content.

The paper includes proposals to block overseas websites that host pirated content and to compel internet service providers to stop users illegally downloading movies, television shows and music.

Movie studios, such as Village Roadshow, which has donated more than $4 million to the Liberal and Labor parties since 2008, are also lobbying for a scheme that will include notifications being sent to users telling them to stop downloading pirated material.

Mr Burke also wants sanctions that slow down download speeds if users are caught downloading pirated material more than three times.

But Mr Turnbull said, although slowing down users is “being canvassed”, it is not practicable.

“The practical ability to do that is very hard, I have to say,” he said. “I think it would be met with enormous resistance, both from the public and the industry.”

Despite this, Mr Burke said slowing down users should be an option. He also said the fact paedophilia material is often removed or blocked from the internet should mean pirated content could also be removed.

“...  In my view there’s a parallel to paedophilia, of course not as serious, but there’s a parallel to it because there’s no thought of that existing or living on the internet,” Mr Burke said.

Mr Burke added that the movie industry adopting a Spotify-like service for movies, as suggested by Mr Turnbull, will not fix the piracy problem as it had not curbed piracy in the music industry.

"There were 2.5 million [Australian music] downloads off Pirate Bay in June alone," he said. "People still opt to steal so that is not a solution."

To create a Spotify for movies also won't work because of the greater cost of creating movies compared with music, he said.

“To say that movies should go out at the same time on Spotify-style price ignores the fact that music is recorded somewhere from $30,000 to $300,000. Feature films cost anywhere from $5 million to $250 million," Mr Burke said.

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