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iiNet's answer to piracy only goes halfway

iiNet's compromise proposal yesterday on the issue of internet content piracy is only a halfway solution.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor

commentary iiNet's compromise proposal yesterday on the issue of internet content piracy is only a halfway solution.

On paper, iiNet's solution makes sense; by setting up an independent authority to handle copyright infringement disputes and dole out minor punishments the same way traffic police dish out speeding fines, both internet service providers and film, movie and music studios get a more reliable way to tackle internet content piracy — an activity which is, after all, against the law — despite the fact that the law is completely unenforceable.

And the actual customers won't have their internet disconnected for offences that are relatively minor in modern Australian society, earning themselves mere slaps on the wrist instead.

However, the problem with iiNet's scheme is that its "traffic police" analogy is far from apt for the situation Australians find themselves in with respect to watching TV and movie content.

Motorists who speed, cross double white lines or commit any other traffic offences don't have to do so. If they want to avoid fines or even losing their licence, they can simply obey the law: drive safely, within the speed limits, signal correctly and not talk on their mobile phone while simultaneously eating a Big Mac and overtaking a semi-trailer.

But what legal option do Australians currently have if they want to get the latest TV shows and movies as soon as they are released overseas? Very few.

As iiNet notes in its own paper, film and TV studios use "staggered release dates and queuing distribution channels" to make sure that Australians always get the latest content later, sometimes six months or more, than our US or European cousins.

In addition, when the content does arrive, often it's only broadcast through certain TV channels at certain times; times when you may have to work or carry out some other responsibility, and thus be prohibited from consuming it. Sure, you might be able to digitally record the broadcast, if you knew it was on, but I'm not sure whether even that common practice is completely legal.

As iiNet noted in its paper, this approach creates "a frustrated and unsatisfied market" and one that is often resigned to simply bulk-renting DVDs six months after TV shows hit the US, if it wants to keep within the boundaries of the law. Online DVD rental service Quickflix is thriving for a reason.

The same frustration is currently felt by other content sectors ... as the scores of Australians who cannot quite get the ebooks they want will attest.

If a piracy authority is established, but the gates of content are not opened and geographical restrictions erased, this frustration will exponentially increase. Australians will be unable to get the content they want in a timely manner, legally or illegally, and will make that frustration known. The current safety valve that exists in the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file distribution system will cease to let off the nation's steam.

The Baby Boomers, Generation X and other older generations may put up with this, more or less. But the simple reality is that Generation Y will not. The younger generation (well, I say younger, but some of them are almost 30) will howl with rage if they cannot get what they want, when they want it.

This war will not be unlike the constant series of running battles the video game industry is fighting with the Federal Government over the need for an R18+ rating, or the seething discontent that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy created with his internet content filter project.

Going back to where we began, the irony is that the TV and film industry has a way to get around this potential public relations and political nightmare. It can simply create a platform where new and old content is constantly added to an easily accessible online library instantly accessible by anyone in the world from any device.

It can even charge a premium for such a service. Packrats like me would pay to collect all of the episodes in dozens of series, and many directors' complete cinematic back catalogue ... just in case we might watch it one day.

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