Australian attorney-general gives ISPs piracy ultimatum

ISPs should work toward a voluntary scheme to crack down on online piracy or face new legislation when the Copyright Act is overhauled, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis has said.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis wants internet service providers (ISPs) and the content industry to re-establish discussions around implementing a voluntary graduated response scheme, or ISPs will face being forced to comply through the planned overhaul of the Copyright Act.

Earlier this month, Brandis announced that the government is considering implementing a scheme that would require ISPs to issue notices to users who copyright owners have alleged have infringed on their works through downloading TV shows or movies through BitTorrent, for example.

He said at the time that the logistics of such a system still need to be worked out, including, importantly, who would pay for such a system. He also said that he would like to see a voluntary scheme put in place, rather than the government legislating enforcement of copyright.

The former government tried over a number of years to implement a voluntary scheme through a series of discussions with content owners and ISPs. The meetings ultimately came to a halt when iiNet, which defeated the content industry in the High Court, walked out of the meetings.

The new Coalition government now appears to be putting the meetings back on the agenda. Speaking on radio in Adelaide this morning, Brandis said that he would look to restart the meetings.

"What I want in the first instance is to get all the relevant stakeholders around the table. There were talks during the period of the Labor government in trying to address this problem. They seemed to go nowhere. So I do want to restart this process with the ISPs and the rights holders and content providers and government."

The attorney-general gave the strongest indication yet that a voluntary scheme was the only way that ISPs could avoid having legislation brought in forcing them to police copyright infringement.

"If we can have a voluntary industry based code of practice, that is always the best way to go. I haven't given up on the possibility of developing a voluntary industry-based code of practice. That will require the cooperation of the ISPs," Brandis said.

"But there is always the capacity, if that fails, for government to legislate."

The Australian Law Reform Commission recommended a major overhaul of copyright law, including the introduction of a fair use regime that makes it easier for people to use copyright-protected works without first getting permission from the owner. Brandis said in his speech earlier this month that he remains to be convinced that Australia needs a fair use system, but told listeners in Adelaide that the Copyright Act would be overhauled, with the potential for graduated response to be included.

"The government will, during this term, be looking to make significant amendments to bring the Copyright Act up to date. I would prefer that those amendments not include a mandatory scheme, but if a voluntary scheme can't be developed, then they will," he said.

Brandis said that downloading a video without paying for it "is an act of theft, it's pure and simple", and said ISPs have a responsibility to reduce infringement.

"The ISPs, in my view, do need to take some responsibility for this, because they provide the facility which enables this to happen. I'm not suggesting for a moment that they're complicit in it. Now, some of the ISPs have been very, very good and have worked with government and with other arts industry sectors on a collaborative basis to try and develop solutions to the problem. I know that David Thodey of Telstra, for example, has been a very constructive and helpful participant in this discussion," he said.

Much of the attention around Australia's high rate of copyright infringement has recently focused on the new season of Game of Thrones. Foxtel has exclusive rights to the fourth season of the show in Australia, and, unlike previous seasons, the episodes will not be available to purchase on iTunes immediately after each episode airs.

To counter the blow back Foxtel has received for the deal, the company today announced that customers subscribing to the Foxtel Play desktop and mobile app can access the Showtime package of channels for AU$10 extra per month for the three months of the show's airing between April and June, for a total price of AU$35 per month, a saving of AU$15 per month, until prices go back up to AU$25 for the package after three months.

Foxtel also announced that its video-on-demand movie service Presto will launch on March 13 for AU$19.99 per month, with a one-month introductory price of AU$4.99.

Telstra CEO David Thodey said earlier this month that Presto's original launch date in 2013 was missed due to software integration issues.

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