The NBN isn't a copyright boogeyman

The NBN isn't a copyright boogeyman

Summary: Industries seeking to push their own agenda will really only blame the NBN in a move to try to force the Labor government to see things their way.


While there are many legitimate debates to be had around Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) project, I had thought we had long moved on from any discussion equating a potential rise in online copyright infringement to the availability of superfast broadband.

Yesterday, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry released its annual report showing a rise in global music sales for 2012 by 0.3 percent — the first time there had been a rise in sales since 1999. In Australia, sales were up 4 percent to almost AU$400 million on the back of digital sales growth.

The breakout report about Australia (PDF) noted that Australian music fans had "patiently watched and waited" for streaming music services such as Spotify and Rdio to arrive, and 2012 was a "watershed moment" for the services in Australia.

And yet, despite all the good news for the music industry, the report warns of potential doom and gloom with the arrival of the Australian government's AU$37.4 billion NBN.

"If more action isn't taken by the government and ISPs [internet service providers] to curb piracy levels, the NBN could have disastrous results for the local industry,".

The CEO of the Australian Recording Industry Association, Dan Rosen is quoted as saying that unless there is a "regime in place to protect copyright online", the NBN rollout "will be a catalyst for increased online piracy across the country."

The difficulty is that the reality doesn't really match their posturing. A market research report by NPD group released this week, showed that in the last year, there was a 17 percent decline in the use of peer-to-peer services to download music, with many turning to the legal streaming services.

The report suggested that 40 percent of people who had downloaded music in 2011 stopped or used less in 2012 as a direct result of access to streaming services.

Of course, there is the argument that streaming services do not generate enough revenue for artists to be a legitimate alternative income source, but the shift away from copyright infringement is itself important to note.

So if 2012 was really a "watershed moment" for streaming music in Australia, then surely more premises with access to a more stable dedicated fibre connection will help push streaming music to become even more popular in Australia, right?

The real reason the NBN is being blamed is because it is one of the more popular policies the Labor government has worked to bring in since it won government in 2007.

We're not going to see a completed review of the Copyright Act from the Australian Law Reform Commission before the election, and so it's not surprising that the copyright lobby would target the NBN in an attempt to coerce the Labor government to bring into place an infringement notice scheme that they've been asking for since the iiNet case, just like in the US or New Zealand, as soon as possible.

Any such scheme still has yet to be trialled, although we know Telstra and Optus are on board, and any attempt to get it done in the next six months before the election would be a public relations disaster for the government.

This is the greater threat to the government and users alike, much more so than vague prophesies of the potential doom of the music industry at some point in the future, simply on the basis of there being fibre connected to more homes in Australia.

The group's own report acknowledges that Australians are waiting for access to content distribution services for much longer than other countries. Perhaps — as iiNet has argued since winning its High Court case — addressing that issue now might go a long way to bring copyright infringement down faster in Australia?

Topics: 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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  • Or putting it another way…

    The RIAA predicts massive take-up of NBN and heavy use of the increased speed.

    I am all for the protection of copyright owner's works.

    The reality is that broadband everywhere is getting faster, the ability of people overseas to host p2p file sharing content is going to increase. This means that Australians will have access to much faster illegal downloads even at current speeds here.

    RIAA members need to rethink their business model that charges considerably more for a legal download here than is charged in other markets.

    My ability to create content is limited by the current internet speed, so as a content producer I would rather have the NBN and make use of the online sales channels than go back to a market that required a significant investment to distribute content.

    The problem for the RIAA is not that the content creators won't be able to make money, it's that they are becoming irrelevant.
    • Actually...

      the problem isn't being faced by content creators. By definition, the content creators are the artists themselves (don't confuse creators with distributors or publishers). And these are the very same artists who, for the large majority of recording history, were grossly ripped off by record companies, often leaving them in huge debt. Some wealthy exceptions aside, the vast majority of musical artists make their money through touring. For most of these artists, recordings are vehicles for advertising, and the more widely those recordings are distributed, the better. Even bands with huge record sales get a large percentage of their earnings from touring. It is only record companies that will feel any pain. But I doubt most of their pain will be at the hands of people who download songs here and there. As with the old mix tapes people used to trade, there is some evidence that downloads can lead to sales. We don't ban pandora or radio for that very reason -- sales come from exposure. Those who don't buy after downloading (like those who stick to their mixed tapes) are those who wouldn't buy anyways. Where record companies will feel the most pain is at the hands of artists like Radiohead, etc who are taking advantage of the new reality in increasing numbers by completely bypassing the record companies that used to exploit them and exert control over them. As for the NBN, as you note, it will facilitate digital sales, both for record companies and for artists who market directly. It will also facilitate such markets as that for complex, content heavy online gaming. I really doubt there will be that much of an increase in pirating in Australia via p2p sharing. I think most people are willing to wait up to 1 hour for their new album via p2p under current conditions (it isn't that huge a wait). I can only see the increased speed benefitting live streaming, which might actually decrease the perceived need for downloading from pirates.
  • Nothing like the RIAA to hold everyone back, again

    When will the RIAA actually get it into their thick skulls that they should change with the world, not expect (and demand) that the world change to suit them. I'm often left wondering why world governments are expected and using their local law enforcers to deal with the RIAA's piracy problems, when the RIAA can look after it themselves.
  • Sounds like a way to protect greed to me

    While I do not agree with Illegal downloads, The question must be asked, why must Australians pay so much more, and wait so much longer for content than the rest of the world?

    The reasons I personally think Piracy is so bad in Australia, and will only get worse are:
    1. Australians wait up to 6 months for Movies, and sometimes up to 2 seasons for TV shows, and this is to Pay TV, we live in a digital age, so simply, WHY?
    2. We generally pay 25% more for both Physical media and Legal downloads/streaming, Our dollar is worth more, so WHY?
    3. And this is my Biggest Gripe, The price to download LEGALLY is the same as Physical media, and in some cases More, How can this POSSIBLY be justified? Without the production of physical media, artwork, distribution, transportation costs, retailers, etc, surely a DVD or Video Game should be a small portion of the price, I suspect the Producers make less than 20% of the current dollar value of sales, so why not Distribute your media Electronically for a reasonable price and make more?

    I think if the fear Mongers really wanted to slow down Piracy, perhaps they could work on the greed first?
  • Availability is also an issue.

    There are many unreleased "backroom" recordings circulating on the 'net because different media distributors are too busy arguing about who owns the copyright.

    I have a huge collection of vinyl and off-air video that is unlikely to see CD/DVD release. Given some of the material, at what point does my duty to share information over-ride the petty copyrights of those who distributed the material so poorly in the first place?