Costs must be fixed first in piracy solution: Comms Alliance

Australia's peak telecommunications organisation has said ISPs are willing to come to the table on a new deterrence system for online copyright infringement but rights holders have to sort out who will pay for such a system first.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Australia's internet service providers are willing to sit down with the Attorney-General's Department and copyright holder organisations and work out a new system to deter copyright infringement, but rights holders must accept that ISPs are not willing to bear the costs of enforcing copyright, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton has said.

Attorney-General George Brandis fired a warning gun earlier this year when he said he was looking for industry to create a voluntary copyright infringement notice scheme to deter Australians from infringing on copyright online through file sharing programs such as BitTorrent, and said that if they failed to come up with such a scheme the government would look to legislate for a mandatory system.

The proposal was welcomed by rights holders, with Music Rights Australia stating that such a system could be similar to how ISPs currently monitor the download caps on their customers. 

Speaking at the CommsDay Summit today, Stanton said that talk around the scheme has oversimplified the issue, and it was far more complex than rights holders had made out. 

"The ISPs and the Comms Alliance are keen to re-engage in the debate about how we might bring an industry-based solution to this," he said.

It has been reported this week that the Attorney-General's Department is preparing a new set of roundtable discussions with ISPs and rights holders, after talks held over two years until 2012 ultimately failed under the former Labor government. The Attorney-General's Department told ZDNet that it has "not approached ISPs or the content industry for a new series of roundtable talks about online copyright infringement", but the issue remains a hot topic both for the industry and the government.

Stanton said that there were a number of factors that had to be addressed for any new copyright-infringement crackdown system to be effective.

Firstly he said that such a system would need to involve all rights holders, and all ISPs.

"It's got to involve all the major players so you don't get to the situation where customers simply churn away from those involved in the scheme to those who are not," he said.

The system would need to be technology-neutral, so that in the event that BitTorrent is superseded by newer technology for copyright infringement, the system does not become redundant, he said.

Stanton said there would need to be a cost-benefit analysis that would show how much such a system would cost, and whether it would actually deter infringement. He said this would involve a trial of a proposed graduated response system.

Any new system would also need to respect existing consumer protections around privacy and the right to appeal, Stanton said. 

"Whatever else we do in this space must respect the rights of consumers," he said.

Importantly, it should also address the issue of making TV shows, movies, and music available in a timely, and affordable fashion and in a way that consumers want to watch it.

"There needs to be a more concerted effort to ensure that consumers can access content in a timely and affordable fashion. When they can't do that, and they want the content, they tend to turn to alternatives," he said.

"Great strides have been made in terms of music streaming, express from the US and all that sort of thing but those paths are not completed. I think we need to try to make sure when people want content they're able to find it and access it lawfully, affordably, and on the device and format they want."

He said that while the debate had moved from rights holders wanting to be paid by ISPs to enforce their own copyright, he said rights holders had yet to realise ISPs should be compensated for enforcing copyright on behalf of the rights holders.

"I think while there is a willingness in the ISP community to have this debate, we don't really want to get into a discussion without fixing up front that question about costs because if we don't get an agreement on that, then the prospect of getting an overall agreement is greatly diminished," he said.

ISPs should also be offered indemnity from liability for the action of its users, Stanton said.

It comes as Australia has been reported to have topped the list of countries seeding the newest episode of Game of Thrones through BitTorrent.

Cable pay TV company Foxtel has locked up exclusive rights to the show's latest season in Australia airing the episodes hours after it is aired on HBO in the US. Foxtel has recently moved to woo customers over to its service through a cut price offering for its Foxtel Play service that includes Showtime for AU$35 per month for the length of the current season. The company has also offered a 14-day free trial to get customers onto the service.

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