Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Free Trade? You've VOD to be Kidding

© Magnolia Pictures
Alex Gibney, the noted documentary maker whose impressive oeuvre includes Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, has a new movie out today.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine takes what senior Apple executive Eddy Cue called an "inaccurate and mean-spirited" approach to its subject, eschewing the usual hagiographic tendencies of recent book and film profiles of Jobs. In short, it takes a "genius and jerk" view of Steve Jobs that has been only hinted at so far, providing some much-needed critical balance to the available accounts of his life

Impressively, Gibney and the film's producer, Magnolia Pictures, have opted for a same-day cinema and Video On Demand release, meaning viewers have the choice to watch at the cinema, or rent and download in the comfort of your own home. That is, unless, you're outside of the United States. If you're unlucky enough to exist outside the reality distortion field that is the USA, you will likely be presented with this should you wish to purchase the film:


Magnolia Pictures VOD

In a regression to the physical world, corporate entities still insist on imposing geographic blocks on content that is downloaded as a bit-for-bit identical copy no matter its physical location. While our politicians hurriedly conclude free trade agreements that claim to have benefits for our farmers and physical exporters, they seem to neglect the trade in data; of discriminatory pricing and access limitations imposed on Australian consumers for digital goods for no good (or defensible) reason. The digital economy, which our pollies love to say "is Australia's future", seems strangely neglected by them when it comes to putting their rhetoric into action.

Attorney-General Bookshelves Brandis and "Practical Inventor of the Internet" Malcolm Turnbull have done little to encourage greater access to the world of digital goods, preferring to impose draconian data retention laws and siding with the movie studios – instead of consumers – on issues of "illegal" downloading. As has been repeated ad nauseum by anyone with a tablet and internet account, making content available in a timely and affordable manner does more to prevent piracy than any demonstrably ineffective "three-strikes" policy ever could. As the long-overdue arrival of Netflix et al. to local shores has shown, Australians are willing to pay for a quality service when one is offered.

My international relations lecturer was always fond of saying "there's no such thing as free trade – only slightly freer trade". This is as true now as then. Free trade deals, as negotiated by our governments, only deal with a very limited number of import/export areas where (usually marginal) benefit can be extracted for both parties. While free trade agreements have been effective at removing (some) tariffs for physical goods, digital goods are largely neglected.

This film is just one example of where our digital world, as advanced as it is, lags far behind our expectations of it, with most of our politicians lagging even farther behind still (honourable mentions to Ed Husic and the other members of the IT Pricing Inquiry) I was a willing customer, ready to pay to watch this film. Unlike some, I believe the creators of our content deserve fair and equitable recompense for the labours...but they're making it harder – not easier – to make this possible.

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