from the elegant-explanations dept
For many years, Techdirt has been covering the dogged efforts of the Australian ISP iiNet to stand up for its users against bullying by the copyright industries. After Hollywood lost its big lawsuit against iiNet back in 2012, things went quiet until recently, when the installation of a new government in Australia has led to years of careful research in the field of copyright being thrown out, and a return to dogma-based policy-making that has no time for the facts.
An interview by Luke Hopewell in Gizmodo Australia with Graham Burke, co-CEO of the Village Roadshow Australia media company, provides further evidence of how Australia is stuck in the past when it comes to copyright. It’s striking how it trots out just about every tired and discredited argument in favor of harsher punishment for those allegedly sharing unauthorized files, along with the repeated claim that iiNet is lying:
“What iiNet are saying to govt is ‘oh, let’s just have everything available at the same time, cinema and everything and the [piracy] problem will go away. They know that’s a lie because of the music industry. In June alone there was 1.2 million illegal downloads of music, and that’s released at exactly the same time everywhere,” Burke said.
Nobody claims that making everything available at the same time will make piracy go away completely. That’s partly because the “piracy problem” in Australia as elsewhere is often more a problem of poor service, as this story from TorrentFreak last year makes clear:
News Corp owns 50% of pay television company Foxtel, the outfit with the rights to show Game of Thrones in Australia. At last count during August the company had around 2.5 million subscribers, but despite the show being legally available to them, the News Corp CEO said that 20% of Foxtel customers still chose to watch the show illegally.
This shows that even when they have access to the legal services, a significant number of people turn to illegal downloads, presumably because they are more convenient — a pretty damning verdict on the state of the commercial offerings. Making everything available immediately won’t solve that problem — only offering well-designed legal services will — but research shows that easy availability through legal services does cut down the level of illegal filesharing, which is presumably what iiNet is trying to get the Australian government to understand.
Next, Burke comes out with a favorite trope of the copyright maximalists:
Piracy produces less of a financial burden for the music industry, according to Burke. Producing an album only costs around $300,000 at the top end, whereas the cost of making a film in the studio model starts at $5 million, and ranges right up to $200 million for epics like Skyfall, Man of Steel and Avatar to name a few.
Of course, that makes the huge and unjustified assumption that such $200 million “epics” are an indispensable part of cinema. In fact, one of the exciting developments in recent years has been the democratization of film-making through high-quality, low-cost video technology that lets people make films for thousands, not millions, of dollars. As Burke himself points out, piracy isn’t really a problem for such productions — another argument in their favor.
He then moves on to another discredited idea — three-strike schemes — plus some more name-calling:
“It’s sad that to forward their case, [iiNet] use what they must know is a fabric of lies. They’re saying that there’s no proof that graduated response works. They’re instancing a number of countries where graduated response was frustrated by lobbying and the power of Google, which pays little to no tax in Australia and creates nothing,” he said.
Graduated response was not “frustrated by lobbying”, it failed because it is an inherently flawed idea, based on fear, not fairness. And it’s telling that Burke tries to distract attention from this by introducing Google and its irrelevant tax affairs here, even going so far as to say that Google “creates nothing”. Since people use its free services, and in vast numbers, they presumably see value in them, which means that it most certainly does contribute to Australia, just not in the form of making films or music, say. Bizarrely, Burke then goes to accuse iiNet of the same sin:
They [iiNet] are also demonstrating the fact that their business model is predicated on selling time, and of course they want the present regime to continue. [Pirates] have a smorgasbord of content online that they are accessing, and paying iiNet for the systems to do so. This is a company that has produced nothing in Australia.”
But iiNet is not a production company, it’s an ISP. It provides access to the extraordinary, multi-faceted riches of the online world, of which unauthorized content forms a very small and unimportant part, despite the copyright industries’ obsession with this particular component. The amazing possibilities that access opens up to its customers is what iiNet “produces”, and it arguably provides rather better value than money spent buying — sorry, licensing — a film or two.
Burke saves the best for last:
“If people are given elegant explanations of why [downloading content] is theft, the bulk of people will be reasonable.”
Yes, it’s the old favorite “filesharing is theft” argument, which is not just wrong, but so widely known to be wrong, that not even “elegant explanations” could ever make it right. Indeed, it’s partly because people like Burke continue to make this ridiculous assertion — as well as casting slurs on anyone that dares to challenge their purely self-interested view of the Internet — that the general public holds the content industries in such low esteem.
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Filed Under: australia, copyright, graham burke, isps
Companies: iinet, village roadshow