Sunday, 16 February 2014

Hijackers or: we call them pirates out here

Oh...WOW! This sounds like a GREAT service! Where do I sign up? Oh. I see...
Federal Attorney-General George "Bookshelf" Brandis has foreshadowed changes to copyright laws. He has stated he may use ISPs to issue graduated warning notices to users, in addition to potentially blocking file sharing websites.

Content producers and copyright holders are naturally delighted with this turn of events.

Sadly, this debate has so far been framed in terms of "pirates" vs. "content creators". Binary demarcations of complex debates seems to be the usual form for this government. What's missing in this debate is any notion of the consumer i.e. the person who might actually buy a film or television programme. 

While industry organisations like Screen Australia are all to ready to refer to Australians as the 'world's worst offenders' when it comes to illegal downloads, no-one is willing to address the most pertinent question: WHY? 

As the recent deal between Foxtel and HBO over Game of Thrones demonstrates, content creators and copyright holders simply don't care about consumers if they're outside of the United States of America. While Americans have wide access to subscription and catch-up streaming, download and Pay TV services to watch their favourite shows, Australians have virtually nothing. 

The only local organisation to have actually created a world-class on-demand catch-up service - the ABC - is perpetually under fire for having done so. The commercial networks are the first to complain about iView, arguing it's outside the remit of the public broadcaster.

But I digress.

Netflix, HBO and Amazon are names that'll be familiar to many Australians, even though their online services remain strictly locked behind an arbitrary internet wall known as "geo-blocking". Even if the geo-blocking wall is lifted by content providers, Australians still often face a much higher price for the same bits and bytes of data than other international markets. As a parliamentary committee found last year, geo-blocking is a "significant constraint on consumer choice."

It is also a bricks-and-mortar anachronism in a digital world.

What's needed is a government response that goes beyond the usual "young people are growing up without paying for anything these days" mindset, and moves towards a more nuanced legal and economic framework. One that is beneficial to both content owners and consumers. The goal should be to maximise the availability of timely, competitively priced legal content which will help minimise the number of illegal downloads. To that end, the government should practice its ideological commitment to free and open markets by banning geo-blocking and helping usher in the next generation of digital culture.

Sure, we won't have an NBN to watch it on, but having the content services is a start.

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