ISPs stuck with 'Malaysia' piracy solution

You've got to have some sympathy for internet service providers, just like Labor with asylum seeker policies, no matter what they do around copyright infringement, someone will be unhappy.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

You've got to have some sympathy for internet service providers (ISPs), just like Labor with asylum seeker policies: no matter what they do around copyright infringement, someone will be unhappy.

For all the successes Labor can claim this year, like passing carbon tax legislation, getting the mining tax through or countless NBN wins, the party still struggles with policies regarding asylum seekers. On the one side, you have progressive people calling for the humane on-shore processing of those who arrive by boat, and on the other hand you have conservatives saying the boats should be turned back, and the people locked up in overseas detention centres. Labor, in the middle (although lurching to the right), wants to "stop the boats" but doesn't want to go to measures that were in place under the former Howard Government for processing arrivals in Nauru. The Malaysia solution was Labor's compromise to stem the flow of boat arrivals while appearing to be more humane than the Coalition.

It ultimately just annoyed the progressives and didn't placate the conservatives, and has so far failed to get off the ground.

It seems that the proposed copyright infringement notice scheme may suffer a similar fate.

On one side, the ISPs have to deal with extremely litigious copyright owners, like the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), which are relentless in pursuing ISPs and users to recoup losses and attempting to "stop the torrents", while at the same time seemingly unwilling to compromise in making their content more accessible to the end user.

On the other side, technology is making it much easier and simpler for users to access content regardless of the copyright associated with it and users are increasingly not viewing copyright in strict terms. According to some, content should be available fast, easily and cheaply, and users for the most part don't care in what form that comes to them.

In the middle, ISPs have to keep their customers happy and protect their interests, while at the same time dealing with an angry copyright lobby keen to chase anyone and everyone in their pursuit to stop people using BitTorrent.

The ISPs and Communication Alliance's policy announced last week appears quite harsh to both parties. For users, the ISPs are basically saying that they'll be willing to hand over private customer information to the copyright lobby if they're caught repeatedly infringing. To the copyright industry, this is a slap in the face, rejecting any possibility of suspending the accounts of repeated infringers and requiring the copyright holders to jump through various legal hoops before they'll be able to obtain customer information.

The result means customers will threaten to jump ship to one of the ISPs not signed up to the proposal, and content owners who are less than pleased with the proposal will continue to eye legislative or legal changes when the High Court judgement for the iiNet/AFACT case is handed down next year.

It's a tough ask for ISPs, and copyright owners have yet to see that the answer doesn't lie in punishing users. Nor does it lie in trying to block every single method that people use to share content. As we've seen before with Kazaa shifting to BitTorrent, people will find a way. Until Australia has more services like iView, Hulu or Netflix, which gives Australians content that is easy to access, priced at a reasonable rate and available at the same time as it is overseas, it's difficult to see that user behaviour will be changed in any significant way.

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