Film studios want Australians punished for piracy

Content owners are pushing for Australian internet service providers to punish their users via speed caps or pop-ups for downloading infringing TV shows, films, or music.

Australians caught illicitly downloading TV shows, films, and music could have their data speeds throttled, or be unable to access websites under proposals being pushed by the content industry.

A deadline looms at the end of this week for rights holders and internet service providers (ISPs) to develop a voluntary scheme to crack down on the high number of Australians who download films and TV shows over file-sharing services.

In December last year, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis wrote (PDF) to the industry, advising them to develop a voluntary code to deal with infringers by April 8 or face new regulations forcing a scheme on them.

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The proposal suggested by the ministers would see the ISPs warn customers for repeat infringements, and then hand over customer details to the rights holders once a certain number of notices have been sent out. This would allow the film studio to take that customer to court.

The deadline for the proposal to be finalised is this week, to allow for 30 days of public consultation and for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to approve the proposal.

Earlier this month, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said that negotiations were making good progress, but that there was still disagreement over who should bear the cost for the scheme, and over "sanctions" for the scheme.

Stanton did not elaborate, as the negotiations are still confidential.

ZDNet has spoken to multiple sources close to the negotiations, however, and it is understood that despite Turnbull flagging that punishing users might be "overly punitive" or "extreme", the rights holders are still pushing for punishments to be included in the scheme.

According to one source, the rights holders aren't pushing for one particular sanction against users, but are demanding that the ISPs come up with a "menu" of set punishments that ISPs would be required to dish out to users who receive multiple notices for alleged copyright infringement.

This could include shaping a person's download speeds, limiting the websites a user can access, or pushing a pop-up to customers alleged to have downloaded infringing content. This would be in addition to the final step of handing over customer details to the rights holders.

Rights holders have been opposed to taking individual customers to court. Music Rights Australia (MRA) noted in its submission that this would be costly, given the number of users who would face suits, and would likely overwhelm the court system. MRA, which is in negotiations with industry, has pushed for punishment of users.

"MRA also supports the development of a range of mitigation measures which ISPs can select from during the mitigation phase," the organisation stated.

"MRA does not consider termination of accounts to be a proportionate mitigation measure, and does not recommend that it should be included in an Australian industry scheme."

ISPs and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) are understood to be strongly arguing against the proposals in the negotiations, but with little time left, it is unclear whether a voluntary scheme will be in place by the end of this week.

The industry has asked the ministers whether more time is available; however, it is understood they have been denied any more time than the original 120 days.

One executive told ZDNet that they believe the rights holders were more interested in running down the clock and forcing a scheme developed by Brandis that would likely be more punitive on infringers than the industry-developed voluntary scheme.

ZDNet sought comment from the film lobby group the Australian Screen Association (formerly known as the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft). However, no response had been received at the time of writing.