Lobby pushing for Australian piracy crackdown donates millions

Lobby pushing for Australian piracy crackdown donates millions

Summary: When Australian Attorney-General George Brandis provided an example of a film that was a victim of online copyright infringement, it happened to be one produced by a major donor to the Liberal Party.


As Attorney-General George Brandis looks to clamp down on online copyright infringement, one of the main members of the recently renamed content industry lobby group, the Australian Screen Association (ASA) has been revealed to have donated close to AU$4 million to the Liberal and Labor parties since 1998.

The Australian Screen Association, which until last year went under the name of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), represents some of the biggest film studios in the world, including Universal, 20th Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, and Village Roadshow.

The latter was listed as the main litigant in AFACT's case against internet service provider iiNet several years ago, where AFACT tried and failed to hold iiNet liable for its users sharing films over BitTorrent. iiNet had declined to pass warning notices sent from AFACT about users infringing on copyright onto the iiNet account holders. The High Court found that iiNet had no direct power to prevent its customers from using BitTorrent other than deactivating a customer's account, and that the notices AFACT had sent to iiNet were not in a form that iiNet would be in a position to pass onto its users.

Since the ruling in 2012, AFACT, now the ASA, has been lobbying the government for the implementation of a graduated response scheme that would see users hit with warnings when it is alleged that they have been caught infringing, and then punishment for repeat infringers with fines or disconnection as a final resort in some cases. The UK and South Korean models have the option to suspend user accounts, while the New Zealand system can see users fined up to NZ$15,000.

When Brandis announced in a speech to the Australian Digital Alliance Forum on Friday that the Australian government is considering implementing such a scheme, he highlighted one particular Australian movie that he said has been a victim of online piracy.

"The Great Gatsby, Australia's most successful film at the local box office last year, is now centre stage after its haul of 13 AACTA Awards and an Oscar nomination," Brandis said.

"Unfortunately, the success achieved by The Great Gatsby can lead to piracy of the film, placing the sustainability of our screen industry at risk."

The Baz Luhrmann film adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel made a reported $351 million in the box office for Village Roadshow and the other companies involved in the production of the film. What Brandis did not mention, however, is that Village Roadshow is also a major donor to the Liberal Party.

An analysis by ZDNet of the annual donor returns listed on the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) of reported donations to the political parties shows that since 1998, Village Roadshow has donated close to AU$4 million in total to the Labor and Liberal parties both federally and in the state branches.

The Liberal Party has received slightly more from the company, at AU$2.07 million, while Labor received AU$1.89 million in donations. The biggest donations from Village Roadshow came in the 2010-11 financial year, around the time of the 2010 federal election, and when AFACT's case against iiNet was in the appeal stage. In that year, Village Roadshow donated a reported AU$422,336 to Labor and AU$446,888 to the Liberal Party.

In the last financial year, Village Roadshow donated AU$22,000 to Labor and AU$315,004 to the Liberal Party. Donations made in the three months up to September's election will not be revealed until February next year.

ASA spokesperson Neil Gane told ZDNet that the ASA "fully supports the measures proposed by Senator Brandis last week", in particular around blocking copyright-infringing websites and the graduated response. 

"The judicial process enabling the creative industry to seek injunctive relief against identified rogue sites without any need for issues of liability to be faced by ISPs for blocking the identified sites has been proven to be an effective technical solution," he said.

"Contrary to much misinformation such educational schemes have proven to be effective. By way of example, in France the costs are shared between government, ISPs and rights holders and have been in operation for nearly 24 months. Results have been positive resulting in a reduction in online file sharing plus an increase in digital sales of content," Gane said.

He rejected a recent research paper that showed three-strikes had been ineffective in deterring copyright infringement in other countries where it had been developed.

"The premise of [the report's] findings is that if a graduated response/copyright alert system is not 100 percent effective it is therefore ineffective," he said.

"The efficacy and success of an educational notice scheme should be more nuanced than that. There are a number of variables that could be considered not least a reduction in peer-to-peer traffic and an uptick in traffic/revenues to legal services."

Gane pointed to a 2012 study into France's own graduated response scheme that showed an increase in sales in iTunes in some categories after the scheme had been introduced.

Report author Rebecca Giblin told ZDNet that Gane had misinterpreted her report.

"In fact, the study exhaustively evaluates all of the available evidence regarding the extent to which each graduated response regime worldwide achieves any of copyright's aims: reduced infringement, increased legitimate markets and improved access to knowledge and culture," she said. "Ultimately, it finds remarkably little evidence that graduated response results in improved outcomes in any of these areas.

"Contrary to Gane's claims, a recent major report commissioned by the French government found that, even if the French graduated response law had brought about some reduction in P2P infringement, that traffic had been diverted to other infringing sources rather than to the legitimate market."

 Gane declined to comment on Village Roadshow's donations, instead directing ZDNet to Village Roadshow.

As Brandis flagged in his speech, one of the main issues of contention is the funding of such a scheme. Australia's ISPs are reluctant to bear the cost of enforcing the copyright of content owners without compensation. Optus' vice president of regulatory and corporate affairs, David Epstein, said that the film studios have yet to step up with a proposal on how they would help fund a graduated response

"We appreciate the attorney-general has to balance a range of views when dealing with issues of copyright infringement. We welcome his recognition of the principle of technological neutrality. But there has to be a willingness from the whole industry to work through proposals and for wide adoption, or else they won't work," he said.

"The people who need to step up are those that make money from distributing content over carrier networks, but we have not seen a willingness from them fund any models that try to deal with the spread of copyright infringement."

Reaction to the speech from the attorney-general has been mixed. The speech followed the Australian Law Reform Commission's recommendation that Australia's copyright laws be overhauled with the inclusion of a fair use regime that would allow for a number of defences against copyright infringement on the grounds of fair use, such as caching, research, news reporting, and non-commercial or private use.

Brandis said he remains to be convinced that a fair use scheme is required in Australia, but the Australian Digital Alliance and the Communications Alliance released a joint statement highlighting that fair use would help encourage innovation in Australia.

"If the government is serious about encouraging innovation, it will commit to these reforms. Some of the biggest innovations coming out of places like Silicon Valley aren't even legal in Australia under current laws," ADA executive officer Trish Hepworth said.

"Fair use will future-proof our laws in a time of rapid technological changes. We call on the government to follow through on the ALRC's recommendations," Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton added.

"Under current laws, basic functions for ISPs such as caching and search-engine indexing are illegal. This means data needs to travel further to reach Australian consumers, adding to costs and therefore bills. Australia's ISPs want to be world leaders in offering consumers the best and most current services. However, our broken copyright laws make this close to impossible."

Google had said in a submission in 2012 to the copyright review that it would not have been able to set up its search business in Australia under Australian copyright law.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) union for media workers, including journalists, said that the proposed fair use regime is vague and open to litigation.

"Although the exception outlined in the ALRC report does offer some protections for copyright holders, including an express statement that 'fair use' of copyrighted material should not infringe copyright, the proposed list of factors remain vague, complex, and open to interpretation," MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren said.

"This will inevitably lead to a boon for lawyers and severely undermine the sustainability of hard-working creative Australian businesses. We fear that the benefits of such an exception would be far outweighed by the difficulties in identifying what fits into the category of fair use."

Warren added that the arrival of new technologies doesn't take away the right for content creators to be paid for their work.

"The argument that the digital economy should transform created works into a free-for-all business model is a falsehood that actually undermines, stifles, and erodes creativity — and ultimately harms consumers," Warren said.

It is expected that Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare will today announce Labor's support for a fair use regime in a speech to the Tech Leaders conference in Queensland.

Disclosure: Josh Taylor is a member of the MEAA.

Topics: Piracy, Government, Government AU, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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    "New study says online piracy isn’t hurting entertainment industry"

    "Report: Album Piracy May Help Musicians Sell"


    "Piracy May Actually Help Artists"


    entertainment industry = greedy liars who need to have 100 houses and 1000 cars to fulfil their greed
    Jiří Pavelec
  • So, it has come to this...

    Guilt by allegation, no trial. That's the business model AFACT want.
  • I download and buy

    If they start cracking down of torrents many of which I then buy on DVD when available, they'll likely lose sales from me. I won't be able to download a series to see if its any good, TV won't show it ASAP because there will be no pressure to do so. Yes pirating is wrong, but most of the practices aimed at producing ridiculous profits are worse in many ways and just is pure greed. Note how the TV/movie industry can't use the hurting local artists line like they tried with music, which in the most part is not pirated as much anymore in Australia because its easy to access online for generally reasonable cost.
    Justin Watson
  • The cost of unified parties

    Here in the States, our poor overworked lobbyists have to arrange campaign contributions to individual members of Congress and state legislatures; but it appears that in most democracies, to include Australia, all they have to do is to donate to the parties who will keep individual MPs in line for them.

    Such a deal!
    John L. Ries
    • true...

      .. and 50% of ex congressmen and women become... lobbyists!
  • More Bribes

    Just another example of big business paying political parties to get their own way. The bribery that goes on between lobby groups and government is as illegal as bribing a policeman, union official or judge.
    Where governments are making policies to advantage their big donators it is very wrong and must be stopped.
  • Give me an alternative

    Very simple ASA!

    1> Make deal with ISPs to put movie downloads into a freezone. No quota charge on downloads.
    2> Charge a reasonable price per movie. I think $5-$10 is reasonable.
    3> MOST IMPORTANT! Forget these proprietary systems! I don't want to buy a movie I can only play on Android. I don't want a movie I can only play on iTunes. Give a me a high quality encoded 1920x1080 movie WITHOUT ADS and other crap and DTS or DD5.1 sound so I can enjoy my theatre room, and let me stream it from my NAS to not only my theatre room, but the kid's computers or tablets if they want to watch it there. No catches.

    Wait, what's that? You're not prepared to do that? I'm sorry, but then piracy will continue.

    We cannot stream over our sad little connections here in Australia, and it costs us a bucketload in download quota. Your ideas don't work.

    Follow steps 1-3 and you know what? You'll find nearly 100% of people happy to buy movies. Mark my words. I for one would absolutely buy movies this way.

    Until then I'll stick with my Free to Air, occasional BluRay rental or Cinema ticket.

    But believe me, the occasional BluRay rental and Cinema ticket is nothing compared to what I would spend on legal accessible movies.
    • Try $2 to $3 for a dvd equivalent...

      ... anything more is ganeing, oh, sorry, gouging...
  • Tweedledum don't dance for free...

    ... and who else will buy him nice books?

    The scum also rises...
    • Only citizens can stop it

      But Aussies are going to have to learn some new habits, as it would involve crossing party lines.
      John L. Ries
  • Piracy in Australia

    Why is so-called piracy in Australia so high - let us count the ways:
    1. Instead of a new national commercial TV Station to compete head-to-head with existing networks, we have the few existing networks with multi-channels broadcasting crap so as not to compete with the main channel. Consequently overseas TV shows are not shown or broadcast months or years late.
    2. We have Telstra and existing service providers banning HULU, Netflix from Australia so they can charge around $70 per month for inferior products both USA, Europe and Canada can obtain for under $10 a month
    3. All the networks have copyright deals with Networks in the USA etc., so even though they have no intention of ever showing a particular program - it is illegal for Australian to view that program via the internet.
    4. The largest recipient of 'Corporate Welfare' in Australia via subsidies, direct money, reduced license fees, protection from competition etc., is our Commercial Radio and TV industry.

    Lets not waist our efforts fighting this, lets share our collective knowlege on how to circumvent any digital barriers our Governments erect.
    • I disagree

      Efforts must be made to repeal bad laws, lest they end up reducing the effectiveness of the whole system; making it harder to make and enforce good laws.

      We really do want the courts available to punish real criminals instead of relying on vigilante committees and lynch mobs.
      John L. Ries
  • A Content Creator is not Necessarily a Seller

    and this is where the biggest problem lies. Once Josh Taylor has submitted his story to IT News then it belongs to them not Josh, I don't know if Josh is being paid a fair sum for his efforts but that is really between him and IT News. Where we start having problems is if IT News decide they want to charge the readers $25 for a Josh Taylor story and only let you access it on an iPhone. Sound familiar; it should because this is what the USA media pariahs seem to want to do.

    It is time for the Australian Parliamentarians to stand up to the bully boy tactics coming out of the USA and for us to adopt as a minimum the recommendations of the ALRC. They should also be telling the USA in the strongest possible terms that the uncompetitive actions of their media companies is not acceptable to Australians and if it doesn't change to expect retribution.
  • Four $million? That might buy a heap of political patronage, but it may also be only the tip of the iceberg.

    Some of these conglomerates might be able to provide millions of dollars worth of political media support to some of those politicians who dance nicely to their tune; and if so, it would all be perfectly legal at present.
  • Slippery Slopes...

    Let's get started by saying that political lobbying should be illegal, as someone pointed out in an earlier comment, it's a form of bribery. And the more power we allow a government to have, the more their reach will exceed their grasp.
    And now onto the matter at hand, PIRACY.
    Let's look at what pirates actually are; "Piracy is typically an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea" (wikipedia). Now I'm pretty sure that internet piracy doesn't rob anyone of their original product or try to prevent their ownership of it, and it certainly doesn't involve any criminal violence. Anti-piracy laws were enacted in the colonial era to prevent robbery of authorship of written works such as books, plays etc. They're now being used to strong-arm average people out of fair-use of TV shows, movies etc. If something is freely distributed on network television, then it should be free to distribute these same copies on the internet, pure and simple.
    The problem is not the distribution of supposed copyrighted works, as no internet file sharer is claiming ownership of a movie or trying to receive monetary remuneration for them. The problem is that these TV networks are receiving billions of dollars for advertising that people are refusing to watch. And now we begin to see the crux of the true agenda here, as whenever a political agenda is made known to the public, you can be assured that it's not the full scope of the picture. If they're willing to publicly acknowledge certain aspects, then it's the things they don't admit to, that you should be concerned about.
    I've been an avid downloader of many shows and movies since I integrated my home network, and as a result I'm able to choose when I'd like to watch my shows, and the kind of volume that I'd like to consume them in. I don't have to be home at a particular time to watch these shows, and there in lies the problem to them. It's a system of control that they're worried about losing, not money.
    It's about coming to your home and telling you what you can and can't do in your spare time. The piracy issue has little if nothing to do with it. I could record these shows on a Teevo Box and that would be considered perfectly acceptable. And like someone else also pointed out earlier, companies like Telstra/Optus/Foxtel are actively stone-walling IPTV services such as HULU/Netflix etc. This whole scenario is just about arbitrary greed, but what they don't realize is that all consumables in life are governed as a buyer's market. If the consumer decides that your product is worthless, then it doesn't matter what you think you should be paid for it, because people will refuse to buy it. Which brings me to my next point, content distribution agreements.
    A while back I wanted to watch this FuelTV show, and it was available to buy on the Xbox360 marketplace, however Foxtel had the distribution rights to FuelTV shows in Australia, and as a result, the Xbox marketplace would inform me that "The content you have tried to access is restricted in your location." So right there I would have been happy to pay to watch it, however corporate greed stood in the way of anyone making money from it, and so I was forced to download the show from torrents. They want people to pay for their content, but behind closed doors, they're busy ripping each other off. Anyone familiar with the practices of "Hollywood Accounting" would be familiar with what I'm talking about. Not to mention the fact the many celebrity personalities have been outed for being pirates themselves. Take Lily Allen for example, who used licensed content on her blog without permission from the original authors. It's hard to sympathize with these sociopath morons who can't even practice what they preach.
    To exemplify another situation, when Dark Knight Rises was released on Digital Download, iTunes expected people to pay a staggering $30 for a digital file that costs no money to produce or distribute in comparison to a brick and mortar copy of the film. I understand that digital files do cost money to produce, but only in the form of encoding and bandwidth for said distribution, but this omits the fact that a single file can be copied millions of times.
    Expecting people to get behind the old "content licensing" ideology is a sad farce at best. They want you to believe that you have the right to access the software or content, implying that the money goes to the distributors or creators, yet why is it that you have to pay for a license for proprietary devices such as iTunes or Android. You're paying to use the content, irrespective of what platform it comes on.
    Anyway I've exhausted enough of my sanity in this round, the old saying that "nothing gets done if it doesn't make money" couldn't be closer to the truth.
    Perhaps they should consult research papers that show monetary reward diminishes creativity.
  • I pirate

    To be frank though the vast bulk of films are those which I already have a licence to, and thus download as oppose to transfer from say VHS to h264. This applies to books and music.

    The other type of film i regularly pirate are the types that I have watched a dozen times before on free2air, which I believe has in given me the right, in return for watching those adverts thousands of timse, to watch the film when I want.

    A good example of this is Star Wars. I in fact know the words to the commercial better then I do then the actual film. There is no way I paying for even a remastered version (they do this on purpose i.e. multiple releases, incrementally better then the last to squeeze more revenue out of an older product).

    Now the final category is a little bit more tenuous but stick with me. I, and my family, have bought hundreds of thousands (we make film and television ourselves) of books, music, films, television shows, not to mention spending a huge amount of time at the cinemas, concerts and theatre.

    To our horror, our discomfort and utter amazement we have discovered the film&television industry have made false & misleading representation that their goods are of a particular quality, made false representations that goods are new (this happens a lot, many films produced years are released as a "new" when in fact they've been sitting in cans for months/years) and made false & misleading representation that purported to be testimonial by people that relating to these goods, and lastly they have failed in their legal obligation to ensure their goods are free from defects.

    Now you might say, golly chugs, you can't charge a film maker for making a crappy film, that's a subjective thing. But I say you can and the law of the land allows for it.

    I have sat through thousands of films full of defects, where the maker and purported critics have made false representations about the quality of the film, where plot holes and technical faults are found throughout. The same applies to music, games (software) books and other media.

    And I have complained, especially at cinemas. At no time has the industry or particular publisher/retailer ever offered a refund or remedy. .

    So these days I am far more cautious with my funds. I will download first and only after the filmmakers have discharged their obligations under law will I consider some sort of payment. The other reason why I download is in my line of work one generally negotiates the rate they will pay for the provision of services and goods. Unfortunately the negotiations, and allowances given, are usually a reflection of the amount of leverage and power you hold as a customer.

    In the case of film and television the publishers dictate pricing, terms and conditions, without any attempt to negotiate with the customer. A good film retailers for $15 a ticket at the cinema whilst a terrible film has the same price. How can this be? Instead of allowing the market to dictate the rate the publishers and retailers (who change the rate between themselves all the time)) fail to do the same.

    I had a cinema charge me $15 to see a twenty year old film! How does that work?

    You'd say but chugs they can't negotiate individually with you there are millions of people. I say to you we have seen the future with Radiohead's experiment and though some improvement of that model maybe called for) is the sort of direction the industry needs to be heading.

    So I download films and pay for them via direct and indirect means. If the film is particularly good I will purchase a licence. If it isn't but retained all the same for repeated viewings then licence merchandise of some is purchased. Films that are watched and deleted immediately no attempt is made whatsoever to provide any compensation. For music we tend to simply see the artist rather then paying their bloated label (unless its an independent) any thing.

    As an actor, and who's family has a rich history in film and television I can say that we are not starving despite the downloads (one of the films has been downloaded millions upon millions of times). The publishers and copyright regime that we have worked under has given us little benefit, that has gone to the publisher really.

    We are not reluctant to produce anything further film or television simply because you download our content films. In fact the download (leaches/seeders) value is a great guide that tells us if our target market is responding. Far better then the bloated jabba the hutt style rating's companies.

    So keep on downloading and know that the only people you are really hurting are the publishers, CEO's and executives who see only to the next quarter, the next bonus and who will squeeze and attack anyone who gets in their way.

    Above all if you want to change Australia then stop watching Free 2 Air. If the Free 2 Air television stations collapsed tomorrow the publishers of those shows would be forced to either

    a) offer pay per view via their site/preferred internet distributor


    b) via whomever it will by an exclusive local broadcast licence.

    So for example Games of Thrones is sold to FoxTel who resell it via a $80 a month subscription. If FoxTel hadn't bought the exclusive licence then you'd be free to watch it directly from HBO. However greed is the name of the game here. If a million people have signed up to FoxTel, paying $80 a month to watch that and possibly a few other shows, then FoxTel has just made $80m per month! and nearly $1 billion dollars extra revenue.

    Now FoxTel hides that money through a web of companies, and through diluting it via "expenses" i.e. their swollen bonuses and salaries.

    So pirate away people, do it free of any believe that you are starving the producer and artist. Do it not only to watch a show but to destroy the status quo and change Australia.

    If you want to compensate the producer/artist of the media then do so directly. Cut them a cheque and mail it to them, go to a show. Cut the middle man out!
  • Hmmm

    "Brandis said he remains to be convinced that a fair use scheme is required in Australia"

    "Google had said in a submission in 2012 to the copyright review that it would not have been able to set up its search business in Australia under Australian copyright law."

    That right there shows what an ignorant buffoon the man is...actually, he's worse than a buffoon because he is actually harming business growth/start-ups.
  • VPN

    Try as they might to stop piracy, it will still continue. VPN's will just become more popular & mainstream.
    Matty G
  • Copyright Infringement

    I can think of many things that could help, from studio through distribution down to viewer, but I am not going to announce them all.

    An authoritarian, top down approach is doomed and at worst usually exacerbate problems/outcomes. Fist thumping and indignation won't help. Everyone needs to listen well and share all concerns. It is more like a democratic model than a policing model.

    Uncreative managerialism and narrow mindedness (dogma), lack of evidence based reasoning, has been a big part of the problem with all stakeholders.

    Technological solutions are a minor component, are costly to implement, become obsolete quickly and are quickly bypassed. It is difficult enough with all the possible platforms already.

    Be genuinely consultative at all levels of stakeholder. It will take time but inclusiveness is very important. Be patient-a long worked through solution/s is better than a half-baked ones. The process or journey is as important as the outcome.

    Be open minded, be fair, be prepared to modify policy i.e., flexibility, don't assume infringers are an evil enemy who just want something for nothing-people are rational creatures in the main. Transparency and good data is vital to good decision making.

    It is a psychological/behavioral/social-cultural/geo-political issue at all levels of the business/consumer level as much as an economic issue.

    Be positive, a win-win situation is possible that maximizes utility and economic returns. Going for what you think is the best bottom line might not be so, it could be lower or higher.

  • North Korea/Iran etc

    An example, think laterally.

    Distribution of copyright infringed media takes place in the tightest controlled environments you can possibly imagine and where the penalties are horrendous, for example North Koreans have quite an appetite for US movies as do Iranians. Being caught can mean death, but it still happens. However, there are some thinkers that think from a socio-political perspective it is something to be encouraged not stopped.