The NBN isn't a copyright boogeyman

Industries seeking to push their own agenda will really only blame the NBN in a move to try to force the Labor government to see things their way.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

While there are many legitimate debates to be had around Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) project, I had thought we had long moved on from any discussion equating a potential rise in online copyright infringement to the availability of superfast broadband.

Yesterday, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry released its annual report showing a rise in global music sales for 2012 by 0.3 percent — the first time there had been a rise in sales since 1999. In Australia, sales were up 4 percent to almost AU$400 million on the back of digital sales growth.

The breakout report about Australia (PDF) noted that Australian music fans had "patiently watched and waited" for streaming music services such as Spotify and Rdio to arrive, and 2012 was a "watershed moment" for the services in Australia.

And yet, despite all the good news for the music industry, the report warns of potential doom and gloom with the arrival of the Australian government's AU$37.4 billion NBN.

"If more action isn't taken by the government and ISPs [internet service providers] to curb piracy levels, the NBN could have disastrous results for the local industry,".

The CEO of the Australian Recording Industry Association, Dan Rosen is quoted as saying that unless there is a "regime in place to protect copyright online", the NBN rollout "will be a catalyst for increased online piracy across the country."

The difficulty is that the reality doesn't really match their posturing. A market research report by NPD group released this week, showed that in the last year, there was a 17 percent decline in the use of peer-to-peer services to download music, with many turning to the legal streaming services.

The report suggested that 40 percent of people who had downloaded music in 2011 stopped or used less in 2012 as a direct result of access to streaming services.

Of course, there is the argument that streaming services do not generate enough revenue for artists to be a legitimate alternative income source, but the shift away from copyright infringement is itself important to note.

So if 2012 was really a "watershed moment" for streaming music in Australia, then surely more premises with access to a more stable dedicated fibre connection will help push streaming music to become even more popular in Australia, right?

The real reason the NBN is being blamed is because it is one of the more popular policies the Labor government has worked to bring in since it won government in 2007.

We're not going to see a completed review of the Copyright Act from the Australian Law Reform Commission before the election, and so it's not surprising that the copyright lobby would target the NBN in an attempt to coerce the Labor government to bring into place an infringement notice scheme that they've been asking for since the iiNet case, just like in the US or New Zealand, as soon as possible.

Any such scheme still has yet to be trialled, although we know Telstra and Optus are on board, and any attempt to get it done in the next six months before the election would be a public relations disaster for the government.

This is the greater threat to the government and users alike, much more so than vague prophesies of the potential doom of the music industry at some point in the future, simply on the basis of there being fibre connected to more homes in Australia.

The group's own report acknowledges that Australians are waiting for access to content distribution services for much longer than other countries. Perhaps — as iiNet has argued since winning its High Court case — addressing that issue now might go a long way to bring copyright infringement down faster in Australia?

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