News Limited CEO Kim Williams has called for the National Broadband Network (NBN) to be used as a platform to police piracy.
Williams was speaking yesterday at the Australian International Movie Convention. He railed against the number of Australians who are illegally downloading films and television shows as they air in the US and the UK, calling it "scumbag theft".
He referenced a report by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation, which said that 37 per cent of Australians have admitted to downloading material illegally, and said sources have estimated that as much as 65 per cent of all material downloaded from BitTorrent is illegal.
Australia needs to do something about the "digital kleptomaniacs", he said, before the NBN opens the floodgates.
"It is getting worse, and will get even worse still once everyone in Australia has access to super-speed broadband through the National Broadband Network — some say internet traffic will quadruple between now and 2016," he said.
He said that the content industry could play its part by providing education for users who don't realise it's illegal to download pirated content, and by making sure that legal content is available. However, he also called on the government to make sure that laws are in place to protect the copyright industry from theft before the NBN rolls out.
"In the most general terms, all of us — content providers, media companies, ISPs [internet service providers] and especially legislators — need to recognise that we live in a new era. We live and do business in the digital age, but our copyright laws continue to exist in the analog era and the paper age. Our mindset for dealing with this problem simply has to change."
The concept of policing digital content has been tested in recent years, with the high-profile court battle between the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) and ISP iiNet. AFACT had alleged that iiNet authorised its users to infringe copyright over its network. However, the case, which went all the way to the High Court of Australia, was won by iiNet.
NBN Co is one organisation that needs to take responsibility for illegal downloading, Williams said, likening the broadband network to a highway.
"Whilst everyone who rides on a highway has a duty to drive responsibly, the highway owners also have a duty to drivers to keep their roads safe and in good condition. The same principle applies.
"Especially because it is a public system, I believe the NBN has a special duty of care to provide a safe super highway for our digital economy. Just like a solicitor-general is expected to act as a model litigant in the legal system, a publicly created NBN should be expected to act as a model digital network — setting the ethical, legal and commercial standards for all else to follow."
NBN Co should be included in any code that is created to battle privacy, and should be obligated to take reasonable steps to stop piracy, he believes.
Williams also tried to address the arguments excusing illegal downloading. He ridiculed the oft-repeated argument that it's impossible to purchase some content legally, saying that more and more content is becoming available online.
"I reject the assertion that there is any sort of shortage of digital content. Even if there were, it constitutes a very poor defence," he said.
"'Your honour, I did smash that window, and I did steal that piece of jewellery, because the shop was shut, and anyway they were asking too much for it.'
"My response is an unequivocal 'Take him down, constable.'"
In terms of being available legally in a timely fashion, he said that cinema releases are often now being conducted simultaneously across the globe, and that new episodes of TV shows are available for purchase on Foxtel OnDemand, although many Australians complain about having to pay for a full package when they only want to watch one show.