As ISPs everywhere await the outcome of AFACT's High Court stoush with iiNet, it might just be the natural evolution of technology that ultimately wins the battle against video piracy.
Technology might have created the headache for movie studios initially, with the internet and file-sharing activity creating a quick and easy channel for the illegal distribution of content — but figures from Cisco now indicate that technology will also be the thing that puts a stop to it.
Cisco's Visual Networking Index (VNI) explains why the movie studios zeroed in on Australia in the first place; file sharing here is actually very high — it makes up 26 per cent of all Australian web traffic, compared to 11 per cent in the US. And a report from internet-security company Envisional reckons that 65 per cent of all non-pornographic content on BitTorrent contravenes copyright.
(Credit: Phil Dobbie)
So how do you stop it? You've heard the argument: "Well, if they made that content available to me, I wouldn't have to download illegally!" Globally popular TV shows can be slow to reach Australian free-to-air screens (if they do at all). International licensing issues mean that some music artists on US iTunes are not for sale here, and while the US views TV and feature movies on Hulu, we can only watch from afar and wait.
So is the lack of access to legitimate content the real reason why so many Aussies break the law? The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) seems to argue that case. In a recent report, it claimed that movie piracy alone cost the Aussie economy $1.37 billion a year, because, it says, almost half of all illegal downloads represent content that we would otherwise have bought. By AFACT's reasoning, if we weren't able to get a movie illegally, we'd pay for it. Does it also follow, then, that if we can't legitimately buy a copy, many will try to snatch a free one off the net?
Many believe that this is the case, and, if they're right, then, according to Cisco, the issue will fix itself. Faster internet speeds mean that we'll be watching more TV and movies online over the next five years, but instead of sourcing them through file sharing, they will be streamed. In 2010, 53 per cent of Aussie consumer internet content was video. In the US, thanks to sites like Hulu, the figure was 73 per cent. But the Cisco VNI indicates that video here will outstrip the US by 2015, accounting for 80 per cent of all consumer internet traffic. That's a big leap in just five years.
(Credit: Phil Dobbie)
For online video to reach the penetration levels of the US, the studios need to sort out licensing in this part of the world. Then, it's hoped, more of us will legitimately buy what we watch. The Envisional report supports the case, reporting that while piracy is rife in file sharing, "the vast majority of video streaming is legitimate", including copyrighted content that is paid for.
So, even if AFACT loses in the High Court, they win with the NBN. Faster networks will provide the opportunity for legitimate mainstream business models.
The problem will remain in the rest of Asia Pacific, where file sharing will still be 21 per cent of all consumer traffic in 2015 (against 8 per cent in Australia). Does that mean that rather than going after ISPs, those against illegal file sharing should be lobbying governments for faster-access network infrastructure, and not wasting time fighting in courts? In other words, embrace the future, and stop worrying about the past. That way, everybody wins.