Piracy and payment

Q&A Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI) head Michael Speck -- the controversial champion of the music industry's efforts in Australia to curb unauthorised obtaining and sharing of music -- is set to vacate his position for a quieter life. He leaves with public awareness of the illicit nature of music piracy at new highs -- but not without disquiet over the music industry's hardline legal pursuit of the parties allegedly involved.

Q&A Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI) head Michael Speck -- the controversial champion of the music industry's efforts in Australia to curb unauthorised obtaining and sharing of music -- is set to vacate his position for a quieter life. He leaves with public awareness of the illicit nature of music piracy at new highs -- but not without disquiet over the music industry's hardline legal pursuit of the parties allegedly involved. Here he shares with ZDNet Australia  his views about life bringing pirates to account.

Q: What are your expectations for this year in terms of MIPI's fight against music copyright infringement?
A: MIPI's focus will continue to be on the facilitators of piracy. The pirate online services and physical piracy operations. This strategy has been particularly efficient for us to date and there is no reason to think that will change. I expect that MIPI will continue to meet its obligations to the industry and public by preventing or detecting piracy and effectively prosecuting it.

Do you think Australia's copyright law is obsolete? What changes would you make, if any, especially in terms of the "fair use" right? (or the right of people to copy their music collection to another format for personal use)
I believe we have some of the best digital / copyright laws in the world. There can be no doubt that these laws do not suit online pirates, or commercial operations that would also want to adopt the "content should be free" aspect as part of their business model. Markets, even online ones, can only survive if there is a regulated marketplace. Laws to recognise and protect property are paramount if the online market is to flourish. Even the pirates recognise this in their rush to prosecute those that infringe their rights and to get licences.

The "fair use" argument has become a little dated in the current market. A consumer can now clearly decide in what form they buy their music. You can already go to a legitimate online service and buy your music in a portable format as an alternative to the compact disc if you wish. In fact buying a compact disc now and complaining about the lack of portability would be as absurd as complaining that the tarpaulin you bought was a lousy parachute.

Aside from the illegal sharing of music files through peer to peer networks, what else threatens the music industry here in Australia? (e.g. markets selling pirated CDs etc)
Australia remains an attractive market, online and physical, for both legitimate operators and pirates. Online piracy attempts will continue but little will change on their technological approach. The linchpin of the digital revolution the online pirates talk about is their exculpatory language, they don't make proceeds from their crime - they commercialise opportunities! I expect two significant Federal Court judgements this year that will go a long way to exposing the true nature of online pirates and their real motivations.

Pirate activity here is, moving forward, focused in three areas; online, cottage industry counterfeiting and commercial (and largely imported) counterfeiting. Fortunately through legislation and action we have a relatively low level of piracy and I don't see that changing!

In terms of traditional piracy (CDs as opposed to the online music kind), what statistics do you have on that in Australia?
Piracy here is at about 9 percent of the market by volume far as we can tell. Our statistics are based on identifiable activity only.

What can you say about a report stating that Australian consumers have no choice but to obtain music through P2P services because their music demands are not met by the limited resources of retail and online stores?
I am aware of the report in question and am surprised it's given any credence. You've got to remember that the P2P services don't produce music, they misappropriate the music the legitimate industry develops, produces and promotes. Not one of the P2P services has an artist repertoire function locating new artist, developing them, promoting them, in fact they just don't make the music consumers want - the legitimate industry does! The proposition is part of the sham the pirate online industry perpetrates on consumers and doesn't withstand analysis. They have been counting on no-one noticing how much money they make from someone else's property and reports such as this one can only serve these millionaires, not the consumer.

You mentioned that this year, MIPI will be intensifying their pursuit of universities that allow copyright infringing activities through their systems. Will students be part of that pursuit? Or even individual Australians infringing music copyright?
Our primary concern is the facilitators of piracy, not individuals. This strategy has been particularly successful for the industry and there is nothing to suggest we need to change this strategy. I cannot be any more direct than to say to you -- we will not be suing individuals. Our current approach has been exceedingly effective and efficient.

Should Universities and ISPs who are not directly involved in copyright-infringing music behaviour really be dragged into legal actions over the issue? Should we expect more ISPs to be in the in the line of fire this year?
I would respond by asking you, "Should an organisation or business not be prosecuted simply business it belongs to a particular set?". There is something completely unfair about a business like an ISP or University having as a defence to proceedings that it is simply an ISP or University. How do you get on a list like that? It has never been the case, despite the protestations that a University or ISP is prosecuted if it is not "directly" involved in an infringement. There can be no doubt that the ISP industry's dirty little secret is how much revenue they derive from the traffic in unauthorised sound recordings. I think it is telling that every time we've raided an ISP we've found evidence of their knowledge and participation in the industry of online infringement. You can expect more ISP prosecutions this year.

You're probably public enemy number 1 to a generation that has, for many years, grown up believing they can download music for free online. Do you have a message for those who believe you are robbing them of a right?
I think you're over-rating my relevance if you think I'm public enemy number 1. However, no-one out there genuinely believes that there is no cost in downloading free music, that it is right or fair and that this misappropriation can last forever. No-one can honestly believe they have a right to take someone else's property without their permission. I would say to them, even the pirates want you to pay for the download so get used to the idea that you will be paying. But remember you will only see the continuing development of musical product if you pay the people it belongs to.

Why are you resigning? What were the rigours of the job that forced you to do so (i.e. the working hours, pressure from P2P companies, even the death threats that you mentioned previously in your affidavit) What capabilities and personality does your replacement need to have?
I've had an usually long run in this job. The best job I've ever had I might add. The accepted wisdom is that you turn over these types of positions every five years or so, and I accept that wisdom. Having this position has been a privilege for me and I'll certainly take my experiences on to anything I do in the future.

I recently met six potential candidates for the position and I don't think I could compete with them if I were applying for the job now. I would not be so presumptuous as to think I should determine the capabilities of a person taking this job.

Some commentary has suggested you've had to take the heat while [ARIA boss] Stephen Peach hasn't put in his fair share. Does ARIA need to step up its profile in this area? What about the record company multinationals themselves? Some might say that MIPI is a unit that allows them to disperse the heat that they would otherwise get for the often unpopular issue of curbing free music downloading.
There is no point having a dog and barking yourself! MIPI is the "anti-piracy" unit and it should come as no surprise that MIPI would take the heat as you say. A great investment of resources and support is made by the record companies and ARIA in MIPI, they established the unit to provide their anti-piracy services. Stephen Peach takes an a great deal of the heat directed at MIPI and its to his great credit that he has remained professional about it.

The record companies have never resiled from their public positions and are committed to their consumers not only on the development of music but also protecting then from piracy.

What are you planning to do next?
I've got six weeks left and will be conducting at least one more raid ....I'll get back to you.