More carrot, less stick: Clare's plan to reduce Australian piracy

Labor Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has said that content providers like Foxtel need to encourage users to find legal methods to get content, rather than asking governments to punish those who use BitTorrent.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Shadow Communications Minister and self-professed Game of Thrones fan Jason Clare has called on Foxtel to make it easier for fans to gain access to the show without needing a subscription to the company's full pay TV service.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

This season's Game of Thrones will be exclusive to pay TV network Foxtel in Australia, with the episodes no longer appearing on iTunes after they have aired on the network. Australia is already one of the biggest users per capita of BitTorrent for downloading TV shows, and HBO's decision to grant exclusive rights to the content to Foxtel has already been met with criticism from some fans who say that they will turn to BitTorrent in order to see the show when it airs in the US.

Last week, Attorney-General George Brandis indicated that the federal government is considering a crackdown on online copyright infringement, including blocking infringing websites such as The Pirate Bay, and implementing a graduated response scheme that would punish users who are repeatedly caught infringing on copyright.

Speaking at the Tech Leaders forum in Queensland today, Clare said that Brandis had "backflipped" after the election, after stating that the Coalition had no policy on it before the election, and that he isn't convinced that such a regime would work.

"There's little evidence it has worked when applied overseas," he said, adding that the question of who should pay for it remains unaddressed.

"Who should carry the burden of implementing this, and the costs? And why should ISPs carry the burden?"

Clare said that a regime that punishes infringers without addressing the underlying cause for copyright infringement would not be effective.

"The better way to do this would be to get people to work collaboratively together," he said.

"I've always found that carrots work better than sticks."

He said he hopes that Foxtel's upcoming Presto video-on-demand service would help address that underlying issue.

"You've got to make it easy for people to access the programs that they want to, and Presto could be a good way to do that," he said.

"I think it is up to content providers to provide new ways for people to get access legally to the content they want to watch."

Clare admitted that he recently brought up the issue of Game of Thrones with Foxtel executives.

"I said 'you guys have got a problem here, because people are going to get it elsewhere. People like me who love that TV show, they want to get access to it. As soon as it comes out we want to watch it'," he said.

"If you're not a Foxtel customer at the moment, you don't want to subscribe to Foxtel, then forget it."

He said that Foxtel understands that.

"I think they realised this is an opportunity to get more customers, and if they don't change their business model to meet the needs of people who love programs like this, then they're going to lose customers, and people are going to get it another way."

When asked about the lockup of the Game of Thrones series on Foxtel, Neil Gane, a spokesperson for the Australian Screen Association lobby group that represents film and television companies, told ZDNet that content providers have numerous online legal methods for viewers to access content.

"The creative communities have worked hard to provide safe, secure, and fair-priced online distribution sites, and these are the sites where most people choose to access their commercial entertainment content from. There are currently more than 20 online services making movie and TV content available to Australian audiences," he said.

In his speech today, Clare did not throw his support completely behind the Australian Law Reform Commission's proposal for a fair use system for the Copyright Act, but said that on his recent visit to Silicon Valley, he heard compelling arguments for the proposal from a number of tech giants.

"Amazon, Yahoo, and Google made a strong case for us to develop the same legal framework. They made the point to me that laws like this helped to facilitate the development of things like search engines and cloud computing," he said.

On the National Broadband Network (NBN), Clare said that instead of the new government pushing NBN Co to speed up the rollout, under Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the targets have been reduced to make it easier for NBN Co to meet them.

"It is important to understand what is happening here. This is all about politics. NBN Co has failed to meet its construction targets in the past," he said.

"Malcolm Turnbull is determined to make sure that this doesn't happen on his watch, so he is lowering the bar so low that it is impossible not to jump over it."

Josh Taylor travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of MediaConnect.

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