Australians fear knock-on pricing in anti-piracy push: Study

A new study commissioned by the Communications Alliance has shown that the majority of Australians fear that ISPs will pass costs incurred by the government's anti-piracy proposals onto customers.

The majority of Australians fear a pricing knock-on should internet service providers be forced to shoulder the burden of combating digital content piracy, according to new research published by the Communications Alliance.

The Online Copyright Infringement Research Report (PDF) study, which was carried out by JWS Research and had a sample size of 1,500 people, found that although over half of Australians surveyed agreed that the illegal downloading of content from the internet is a national problem, most also fear that they would face higher internet bills as a result of ISPs taking action against piracy.

The study also found that the majority — 66 percent — of respondents believe that if content distributors offered cheaper pricing, people would not download content illegally. Meanwhile, 60 percent of respondents believe that if content was made available at the same time in Australia as it is elsewhere, this would also act against the practice of illegal downloads.

The concerns around the knock-on cost effect of burdening ISPs with compulsory anti-piracy activity was reflected in the results, with 60 percent of respondents agreeing that rights holders should reimburse the "reasonable costs" of ISPs that assist them in fighting piracy.

The research follows the Communications Alliance's submission (PDF) to the federal government's online copyright infringement consultation paper (PDF), released in July. In its submission, the organisation said that rights holders should bear the costs of court proceedings against infringers, as well as the implementation of court orders.

"There is a strong alignment in many of the viewpoints of those surveyed and the major internet service provider members of Communications Alliance," the organisation's CEO John Stanton said. "ISPs do not condone or authorise online copyright infringement, nor accept that concerns over pricing are a justification for improper behaviour. ISPs are committed to finding equitable and practical approaches to combat it — preferably in cooperation with rights holders.

"In our submissions to government on these issues, we have stressed the need for a multi-faceted approach to online copyright infringement — a scenario in which all stakeholders have a constructive role to play. For our part, this has included moving toward a cooperative 'follow-the-money' strategy designed to restrict the advertising revenues flowing to websites that promote or facilitate online copyright infringement," he said.

The study's findings mirror the assertions by economists Allan Fels and Henry Ergas, who suggested that the Australian government's proposed measures to reduce online copyright infringement would remove the competitive pressure on content owners to lower the price of TV shows and films to compete against infringing downloads.

In a joint submission to the government's discussion paper proposing website blocking and graduated alert schemes to deter copyright infringement, Ergas — who was appointed to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's cost-benefit analysis of the National Broadband Network — and Fels, former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman, said that the costs of such a scheme would be significant.

"Their costs are significant, while the community-wide benefits are dubious — it is not clear whether the proposals will do much to reduce piracy and significantly increase the incentives for creators. Certainly, the government presents no evidence that the proposed polices are likely to produce net benefits," the economists said.