ISPs ready to crack down on online piracy with industry code

Australia's internet service providers have expressed their eagerness to work with the government to continue the fight against internet piracy.

Following the Australian government's announcement today to continue to push plans to crack down on online copyright infringement, the industry has announced that it will stand by the decision.

The Communications Alliance said it supports the balanced approach the government will be taking to fight internet piracy.

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said Australia's internet service provider (ISP) industry will take on the government's advice to develop an industry code for notifying customers of when they are alleged to have infringed on copyright online by the rights holder, and how they can gain access to legitimate content.

"We will consult with consumer representatives and rights holders as we develop the Code and the details of the notice scheme over coming months," he said.

"The code will not include any sanctions to be imposed by ISPs on their customers -- we believe that the copyright holders are the appropriate party to take any enforcement action against persistent infringers.

"But we are optimistic that the sending of notices by ISPs to consumers whose service has apparently been used for improper file sharing will be a powerful signal. We hope that the notices, combined with education measures, will convince many 'casual' infringers to change their behaviour."

Stanton said ISPs will examine cost models with right holders, including ways to ensure that the expense of running a notice scheme can be minimised.

"Making inroads against internet piracy in Australia will return to rights holders a proportion of the revenue that they are currently losing due to piracy. Thus, it makes sense for the rights holders to reimburse the reasonable expenses that ISPs would incur in operating a scheme -- just as police and security agencies pay for the services that service providers offer them to assist law enforcement," he said.

Jane van Beelen, Telstra's executive director of regulatory affairs, echoed a similar view, saying that she is keen to work with right holders and other ISPs to implement measures quickly, and with minimal impact on customers.

Similarly, Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein said the government's decision to legislate to address the issue of online piracy is a welcome one.

"The introduction of legislation will have two main effects. First, it gives us tools to deal with the operators of pirate sites. The people who run pirate sites are criminals who steal content from creators and profit from their theft," he said.

"Secondly, it will allow us to reach out to people who download illegitimate content to educate them that what they are doing is wrong, and that there are many legal options they could take. The fact that there will be legislation will itself be an important factor in sending the message that piracy is wrong.

"We look forward to working with the government and other industry participants to develop a workable regime."

Freudenstein noted that the company recognises there is a gap in the market where current content is not available fast enough, and said that Foxtel will make content available more quickly through its Express from the US initiative, and through its Presto service that is now streaming movies for AU$9.99 a month.

On the flip side, Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare has slammed the government's approach in attempting to defeat online piracy as having "passed the buck back to the industry".

"Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis have still not settled key issues raised in the discussion paper they released in September. The government has not made clear what steps an ISP should take to deter piracy, and who will bear the costs of those steps," Clare said.

"The government's only concrete decision is to introduce legislation providing for overseas websites facilitating copyright infringement to be blocked in Australia by court order. Site blocking is unlikely to be an effective strategy for dealing with online piracy."

At the same time, Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam has argued that the government's plan for an industry code on copyright will not address the problem.

"The government has not specifically allocated a role for public interest organisations to have a place at the negotiating table. Yet, users will be the ones most affected by this new code," he said.

Ludlam also described the government's decision to give the industry 120 days to develop a code as "farcical".

"This is not enough time to develop a code," he said.

If an agreement on the code is not reached by April 8, 2015, a binding industry code will be set up under the Copyright Act. Ludlam said that if it reaches this point, the Greens will not support amendments to the Copyright Act to allow right holders to apply for court orders requiring ISPs to block access to websites.

"Such a move would be a de facto internet filter, and would allow rights holders to unilaterally require websites to be blocked. This kind of internet filter would not be effective at all, due to the widespread availability of basic VPN software to evade it," he said.

Likewise, Chris Berg, Institute of Public Affairs senior fellow, believes the government's approach is a revival of the former Labor government's internet filter, and that it's a threat to free speech.

"This is nothing more than an internet filter, of the sort which the Coalition proudly opposed when it was proposed by the Rudd and Gillard governments," he said.

"There is no reason to believe that this will reduce copyright infringement in any material way."

Meanwhile, the Pirate Party has compared the federal government's approach to handling online piracy as an "Australian version of the failed US Stop Online Piracy Act".

"Notification schemes, graduated response schemes, and website blocking do not work. They are costly, ineffective, and disproportioned, as evidenced by academia and decisions of foreign courts," said Brendan Molloy, president of the Pirate Party.

"Fighting the internet itself as opposed to solving the lack of convenient and affordable access does not work, nor does propping up business models that rely upon the control of content consumption in the digital environment."

As for what the changes will mean for consumers, Choice said it will only mean harsher consumer penalties while ignoring the drivers of online infringement. It believes it will increase the costs for all internet users, not only pirates, and open the way for the content industry to target consumers with "disproportionate" penalties.

"Outsourcing the piracy crackdown to industry is far from a soft option, because it carries the potential for serious sanctions against consumers, including internet disconnection," said Choice CEO Alan Kirkland.

"And it's far from an effective option, because it ignores the two biggest reasons Australians infringe online copyright: Price and availability."

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