Copyright infringement is terrorism, screech the revolution's losers

If these efforts from the copyright industry and its workers' union are the best they can do, then it's time for them to face up to their own mortality.
Written by Stilgherrian , Contributor

You might have thought that Australia's "debate" over online copyright infringement couldn't get any sillier. But this week the journalists' union came out as a fan of internet censorship, only to withdraw when they realised what they'd done. And Village Roadshow equated copyright infringement with terrorism and pedophilia, and came out in support of, oh, moonbats or something. Hard to say.

Village Roadshow's submission (PDF) to the government's copyright infringement discussion paper is the loopiest, with so much shouting and whining that it's hard to take their hyperbole seriously.

"The dangers posed by piracy are so great, the goal should be total eradication or zero tolerance. Just as there is no place on the internet for terrorism or paedophilia, there should be no place for theft that will impact the livelihoods of the 900,000 people whose security is protected by legitimate copyright," the submission says.

Oh get a grip.

The tone is clearly that of Village Roadshow's co-CEO Graham Burke, whose manner at the best of times can most generously be described as eccentric. But to equate the abstract problem of a reduction in your profit margin with the damage done to the victims of child sexual abuse and the slaughter of innocents? That takes some chutzpah.

There's an entire section complaining about arch-enemy iiNet, as if that one company personifies the entire internet and its users.

"The principal opposition to a rational approach dealing with theft comes from the propaganda machine of iiNet under the heading of 'Fighting For Our Customers'. Their propaganda defines disingenuous and should be headed 'Misleading Our Customers'."

The "900,000 Australians that stand to lose their jobs" rhetoric gets a good run, and the rest of the framing is much the same as the government's discussion paper — surely a coincidence. I've dealt with that spin previously.

Village Roadshow actually makes some balanced points. The costs of implementing a so-called graduated response scheme, where action against alleged copyright infringers starts with educational notices and eventually escalates to the "shaping" or slowing down of their internet service, should be shared between ISPs and the copyright industry, for example. Costs should not be passed on to end users.

But that clarity will end up being lost in the headline-grabbing loopiness and the endless sore-loser whinging about iiNet's profits. Perhaps the copyright industry, and Village Roadshow in particular, should consider whether it's the wisest strategy to continue with a buffoon as their front man.

As for the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance, as ZDNet reported, its submission supported the blocking of websites accused of copyright infringement with disturbing enthusiasm.

"We are concerned that the proposal for injunctions to only be available [sic] against sites that have the 'dominant purpose' of infringing copyright could create a loophole. Pirate sites can have other purposes. It would be simpler for injunctive relief to be available in relation to any infringing online services," it said.

Simpler, perhaps, but not just. Pirate sites — a term as blunt and prejudiced as "crack house" — can have other purposes. Nevertheless, the MEAA seemed happy to punish legitimate users going about their legitimate business. Whatever. Block 'em, and collateral damage be damned.

"No other industry is subject to a campaign suggesting that consumers should help themselves to goods and services without paying because it is more convenient," they wrote. 

A common statement about a potential cause of copyright infringement, was utterly misrepresented as the promotion of illegal activity — a slur at best incompetent, if not unethical and defamatory.

But the MEAA's entire hardline submission was withdrawn within hours on Thursday following an online backlash.

Apart from a brief press release, the MEAA has refused to comment on this sudden turnaround. But according to Myriam Robin in Crikey today, "MEAA insiders were this morning describing the whole kerfuffle as a 'f***-up', with its genesis likely in the ongoing division of different sections of the union."

It wasn't the MEAA's representation of journalists at play here, dedicated as such people usually are to free and open communication. The MEAA also represents actors, dancers, sportspeople, orchestral and opera performers, people working in entertainment venues and at recreation grounds — a veritable menagerie of B-Ark passengers.

Within that part of the MEAA, "there is a concerted attempt to keep the big movie producers onside, as this can help in pay negotiations and the like," Robin writes. "Yesterday's spurned submission, which read like it could have been written by the film industry lobby, ultimately went too far."

Now, I can understand the emotions behind these two scattergun submissions, and why in the MEAA's case, one section of the organisation went so far as to forget their previously-stated policies. In the global digital revolution that's changing everything, these industrial-age entertainment-industry types look like they're on the losing side.

For actors, musicians, and all the rest, industry restructuring means that even if they're still needed in the same numbers — which I doubt — they won't necessarily be working in the same ways for the same kinds of organisations. For many of them, their jobs are doomed, and the world needs only so many baristas.

For regional middle-men in the entertainment distribution industry, well, the whole point of the internet is to connect people globally without middle-men. Who needs 'em? They're definitely doomed.

Things are indeed getting desperate. This is why they promote ideas like graduated response, even though, as Rebecca Giblin of the Monash University faculty of law said in a paper on the issue: "There is little to no evidence that that graduated responses are either 'successful' or 'effective'".

Indeed, there's a telling comment in the dumped MEAA submission: "Clearly anything that makes piracy more complicated and time consuming will reduce its incidence." But this hand-waving doesn't consider whether the cost of doing this "anything" might outweigh the benefits. It's a logical fallacy. We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it.

We're watching the death throes of an industry, ladies and gentlemen. Listen to their whining. Watch them thrash about. But only for the entertainment value, not as the basis for government policy.

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