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Is Self-interest Ruling Australia’s Piracy Debate?

November 29, 2011

I appreciate that internet piracy and the protection of intellectual property is a hotly-debated issue at the moment, and I’ve already made my position clear (see Piracy and ‘The Slap’). A large part of the problem is that intellectual property law is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that the Internet and digital content have removed most of the physical jurisdictional barriers that have always defined IP.

I was listening to some commentary on the radio yesterday – and the same justification for piracy comes up time and time again. The justification is that consumers have the right to access content, regardless of their region. On the radio, the example was given of TV shows broadcast in the US that Australian audiences can’t access.

Renai LeMay, in today’s Delimiter, expressed a similar view:

Australia’s love affair with piracy is not an effort to gyp content creators of their rightful remuneration for that content — it’s a simple attempt to get at content which is too hard to consume otherwise. Once again, audiences want to be able to get whatever content they want, at the same time as everyone else, on whatever device they want to be able to view it on, and at a reasonable price.

While that view is valid, why should the consumer’s self-interest hold sway over the ISP’s self-interest, the artist’s self-interest, or the content industry’s self-interest?

Consumers don’t have a right to access content.

All that has happened is that we don’t have the same barriers to access content that we used to have 20 years ago. If people are jumping up and down about their right to access TV shows broadcast in the US, why aren’t they jumping up and down about their right to see the latest Broadway musical or Justin Bieber concert?

I don’t remember anyone getting upset 20 years ago when Twin Peaks was on our TV screens six months after it was broadcast in the US …

(Pictured: “Pirate Deck at Club Earl”, Earl-What I saw 2.0, available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License 2.0 licence.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2012 2:12 pm

    Thirty years ago when Twin Peaks was released you didn’t really have a choice. Australia didn’t even have Pay TV in those days. Today the on-demand genie is out of the bottle. Whether or not it is reasonable for people to expect to see the latest episodes as soon as they are released in the US, the expectation is there.

    I believe that this situation is exacerbated by the contempt with which the broadcast networks (and I am looking at you in particular Channel 9) treat the audience. They show two new episodes then a few weeks of repeats, change timeslots, never stick to scheduled times and pump the shows so full of commercials that of course a commercial free, on-demand, where-and-when-I-want-to-watch version looks very attractive.

    Although Pay TV has commercials too I find that they offer a compelling alternative to FTA because at least they will stick to the schedule for their shows – I can click the series-link button and then watch the shows when I want without worrying that the start or finish didn’t get recorded.

    Just as the music industry did, the TV industry needs to work out how to adapt to the new world. Evolve or perish

    • January 30, 2012 4:15 pm

      Paul – I totally agree that consumers are treated with contempt by most of the broadcasters, and that the TV industry needs to adapt to the Internet world. Maybe the content owners need to be a little stricter with the conditions associated with the sale of their shows to broadcasters around the world (such as ensuring that shows are broadcast at a certain date and sequentially!) or maybe they should start looking at models where they are providing direct access to consumers to their content over the Internet. I don’t see anything wrong with content owners competing directly with broadcasters for eyeballs. It might actually make content more affordable for the broadcasters …

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