by ABC News Au
Copyright holders say a proposed plan to tackle online piracy falls short of its expectations, while internet civil liberties advocates have slammed it as ineffectual.
Australia’s five major ISPs want to introduce an 18-month trial which involves sending warning notices to suspected illegal downloaders while assisting rights holders to pursue serial offenders through the courts.
But that is not enough according to the Australian Content Industry Group (ACIG), which represents, among others, the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA), Copyright Agency Limited and Microsoft.
“The ACIG and its members had been working hard to focus on the best possible solution to address the continuing and growing damage which internet piracy has on content owners,” spokeswoman Vanessa Hutley said in a statement.
“ACIG does not think the scheme proposed by Communications Alliance and its members creates a balanced process and it falls well short of the expectations we had had for an open, balanced and fair solution.
“We continue to hope that we can engage in positive discussions to bring about a solution to this important issue.”
The ACIG did not comment further on what its preferred model was.
The Communications Alliance – which represents Telstra Bigpond, iiNet, Optus, iPrimus and Internode – says its plan protects consumers while respecting the rights of copyright holders.
During the trial, rights holders would send copyright infringement notices, including evidence of copyright infringement and the IP address involved, to ISPs who would then send “educational notices” to the internet users concerned.
Users who are suspected of further copyright breaches would then receive up to three warning notices before rights holders are able to pursue court action.
But Electronic Frontiers Australia secretary Kim Heitman says providing legal options for buying TV shows, movies and music is the only way to address the problem.
“The only thing that is going to stop that is if the drivers of that behaviour change,” he told ABC’s PM.
“The only reason why it is appropriate and normal for people to use peer-to-peer programs to download TV programs, for example, is that there aren’t any arrangements being made at present for niche programs to be available for DVD purchase in Australia in a timely way.
“And likewise, with music and video not being available in Australia, there’s no surprise the peer-to-peer programs are filling the gap.”
While EFA would prefer changes to business models and the Trade Practices Act, Mr Heitman said he welcomed the new proposal for taking an educational rather than a punitive approach.
The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, meanwhile, says it will not comment on the plan and is committed to its action against iiNet in the High Court, which begins tomorrow.
AFACT, representing major film studios including Universal and 20th Century Fox, is appealing a Federal Court ruling in February that the ISP was not liable for its users’ copyright infringements.
Luke Hopewell, a technology journalist for ZDNet, told ABC News Breakfast that the Communications Alliance plan, if adopted, could avoid this sort of legal action against ISPs in future.
“[This plan] certainly provides clearer boundaries for liability of internet service providers,” he said.
“What it is supposed to be is a more collaborative effort between rights holders, ISPs and almost users as well, because there is a certain level of education here that tells people that what they’re doing is actually illegal.”
But Mr Hopewell says identifying illegal downloaders would be problematic.
What’s to stop you from falling victim to drive-by pirates – people who stop outside your house or wander into the zone where the wi-fi is available and start downloading using your connection?Luke Hopewell
“Are they going to identify it by the actual file name that you download? Would pirate uploaders just change the file name so it looks like you’re not downloading anything illegal?” he said.
“And if you have an open wi-fi network at home, for example, what’s to stop you from falling victim to drive-by pirates – people who stop outside your house or wander into the zone where the wi-fi is available and start downloading using your connection?
“There is an appeals process for that sort of thing, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how it’s actually going to take place.”
The Communications Alliance’s plan follows discussions with the Federal Government and representatives from the film and television, music and video game industries.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland, the minister responsible for copyright legislation who has been involved in the discussions, would not say whether he supported it.
“It is the Government’s preference for industry to work together to develop a solution to address this issue,” a spokesperson said.
“The Attorney-General will be briefed on the outcomes of any industry discussions and the Government will look closely at the outcomes of these discussions from all involved before considering other options.”
But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s office offered praise for progress in talks.
“The Government welcomes the industry working towards a solution to the issue of piracy and has been encouraging the parties to work together for some time, because it is important any proposed solution is supported by both ISPs and the content industries,” a spokesman said.