Australians on Twitter were talking about the first episode of season two of Game of Thrones last night. There's just one problem about that: it hasn't aired here yet.
Foxtel, which will get first dibs on the season, won't air the first episode until 10 April. By then, it's clear the hardcore fanbase for the HBO adaptation of George RR Martin's fantasy book series will have already seen that episode and will be moving onto the second.
That people are accessing the episode before it airs here using BitTorrent, or using Hulu or Netflix via VPN is nothing new. Australia has arguably one of the highest rates of TV copyright infringement in the world, fuelled by intransigent content owners and television networks that hold off airing programs for weeks or months at a time. This means those programs are not available in Australia legitimately until well after it is available through other methods.
What is new is just how open people seem to be about it. Game of Thrones, more so than any other show, seemed to encourage media personalities, journalists, people in the tech industry and others to talk openly on social networks about something they couldn't have seen without infringing on some part of the Copyright Act.
Is it just that using BitTorrent has now become so common that it's less of a taboo subject? Or has iiNet's long-running feud with film studios action group the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) lulled people into a false sense of security that they won't be targeted until that case is concluded?
AFACT isn't suggesting now that it will launch actions against individuals for their piracy in the near future, but is lobbying the government and internet services providers (ISPs) to begin implementing a gradual response scheme (at the ISPs' cost) that serves to educate and ultimately deter users from infringing with the threat of a suspended internet service.
This is similar to the scheme the US Center for Copyright Information is looking to implement in the United States.
Australian ISPs would prefer a co-pay scheme where eventually, and through proper judicial process, groups like AFACT can get a user's information and then fight it out with that user in the courts.
But would these sorts of schemes really be effective?
Interestingly, even the so-called "three strikes" law implemented in New Zealand last year seems to be doing nothing to stem the amount of digital copyright infringement. New Zealand network research group WAND gave a presentation in January to a New Zealand Network Operators Group event that showed evidence from one New Zealand ISP that while peer-to-peer traffic dropped to about 40 per cent of its levels in January 2011 by January 2012, there was a massive jump in the use of tunnelling by 2.4 times in one year.
"This is probably indicative of people changing their approach to downloading copyrighted material. Instead of participating in file sharing on their home machines, it has become more common for people to use machines based in other countries and ship the file back home via another protocol. This might be via SSH, VPN or FTP, for example, which are all covered by the growing categories," WAND said.
Will users continue to flaunt their piracy before rights holders as they use VPNs to make a mockery of gradual response schemes?