Village Roadshow's iiNet piracy 'propaganda' complaint rejected

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission rejected a complaint from Village Roadshow co-CEO Graham Burke that iiNet's 'propaganda' around copyright infringement was misleading and deceptive.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has rejected a complaint from Village Roadshow that iiNet's stance against the government's proposed crackdown on Australians illicitly downloading TV shows, films, and music online was misleading or deceptive.

In June, iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby penned a blog post on the iiNet website entitled "Fighting for Our Customers", detailing the company's opposition to the then-rumoured plans the government had for combating online copyright infringement in Australia.

"The Hollywood Studios have been relentlessly lobbying the Australian government on a range of heavy-handed solutions, from a 'three strikes' proposal through to website filtering — none of which take consumers' interests into account," he said at the time.

"The studios won't pay for this scheme; instead, they expect ISPs to pay for the infringement notice process, resulting in increased charges for our customers, even those who subscribe to legal sources of content."

The discussion paper launched by the government in July revealed that the government is looking to implement an infringement notice scheme, where customers receive warnings when copyright holders allege that they have infringed on copyright. The government is also considering blocking websites associated with infringing content such as The Pirate Bay.

In Village Roadshow's submission to the discussion paper, co-CEO Graham Burke flagged that he had made a complaint to the ACCC about iiNet and Dalby's comments being misleading or deceptive conduct for the ACCC to investigate.

In late September, ZDNet was informed that the ACCC had decided not to proceed with an investigation. The ACCC declined to comment on the investigation, or its outcome.

Under Freedom of Information, however, ZDNet has obtained emails (PDF) sent between the regulator and Burke over the complaint, which reveals that the ACCC took just over one week to decide not to investigate Burke's complaint.

In Burke's complaint letter to ACCC chairman Rod Sims, he said that iiNet's arguments were "transparently and patently untrue".

"They claim legislation and industry initiatives don't work. This is akin to saying abandon policing drunken and high-speed driving on our freeways. Of course there will be people that will continue to infringe, but the problem can be addressed," he said.

"iiNet has established a regime of encouraging people to email our political leaders on a premise that is patently untrue — and this should be stopped. In the meantime, it is so threatening to the livelihoods of so many Australians that Village Roadshow is referring the matter to the ACCC so that it can be investigated under the Australian Consumer Law."

In a letter sent to Burke in response on September 10, the ACCC's executive general manager for consumer enforcement Scott Gregson said the statements were made in the context of public discourse around online copyright infringement. He said the comments did not fit into the category of trade or commerce under Australian Consumer Law that would lead to an investigation by the ACCC.

"The ACCC is unable to pursue all matters raised, and in this regard you may also wish to obtain your own advice on the matter, noting that the law provides private rights of action," he said.

Burke said in a response that Village Roadshow had noted the ACCC's suggestion that private action was available.

It comes as iiNet, and a number of other ISPs, are also fighting to prevent copyright owner Dallas Buyer Club LLC from obtaining customer records associated with downloading infringing copies of the movie Dallas Buyers Club.

It has been rumoured that the government may introduce legislation for the copyright infringement crackdown next week, in the last sitting week of parliament for the 2014 calendar year.