Key bodies in the television and music industries have urged Attorney General George Brandis to make legislative reforms that would give Australian rights holders the ability to combat piracy and force internet service providers (ISPs) to take action.
The call from groups including the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA) and Music Rights Australia (MRA) are for reforms that would require Australian ISPs to block or take down websites that host illegitimate material. They follow the release of statistics today showing Australians again led the way with illegally sharing versions of Game of Thrones.
Vanessa Hutley, general manager of Music Rights Australia told Mumbrella: “We hope the Attorney General will do as he said and allow rights holders to go to court and get a court order that would have ISPs block these sites.
“This isn’t about stopping people being on the internet, but nothing on these websites is about legitimate content.”
However, ASTRA’s CEO Andrew Maiden said blocking websites would not solve the problem, but could help counter the growth of piracy.
“We recognise that’s not a perfect solution because pirates can change IP address and avoid the blocks, but by blocking the worst of the worst (the most popular) sites, you alleviate some of the damage that is done,” he said.
The call comes amid ongoing concern about the growth of piracy, with sites like Pirate Bay thought to now have as many as 1.4m Australia users, according to Nielsen.
Other popular pirate sites such as Kickass Torrents 1.3m Australian users, while Torrentz.eu has almost 500,000 users and Isohunt andTorcache.com have an estimated 245,000 users.
A report earlier this year from the Digital Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit focused on Internet safety issues, estimated the global ad revenue from a site like Pirate Bay was US$227 million in 2013.
“Music Rights Australia supports the recent announcement by the Attorney General he is reviewing the processes that would allow a rights holder to protect their work online,” said Hutley.
“These include getting third party injunctions, which is about disrupting the access of sites like Pirate Bay so that the legitimate services are allowed to compete on an equal playing field.
“Pirate Bay is still the number one infringing site in Australia and it grew last year 6 per cent year on year and that’s not just for music. We know it is illegal content because Pirate Bay does not licence the material it makes available. What it does do is make an awful lot of money from the ads which appear on it.”
Earlier this year Brandis signalled he was open to reforming key legislation in the area, suggesting there might be grounds to go further and introduce a “three strikes” rule to threaten the access of consumers downloading illegal content.
ASTRA’s Andrew Maiden said three strikes might be a way of changing consumer behaviour and shifting it to legal services such as Foxtel’s Play and Presto services, and Quikflix.
“(We could) send out a notice to someone who downloads content illegally, pointing out they downloaded content illegally, and when they do it a second time send a second, more strongly worded notice. And send another more more strongly worded notice when they do it a third time,” said Maiden.
“A lot of the piracy evaporates when people discover they are being watched and are reminded that they are doing the wrong thing. We’re not looking to slow down broadband, but the simple act of sending a message to the user by itself is enough to deter them.”
MRA’s Hutley said one of her biggest concerns “safe harbour” and secondary liability provisions in the copyright act, limiting their liability for damages in cases where the ISP has a policy for dealing with customers who repeatedly infringe copyright.
“The safe harbour sections and secondary liability provisions are not functioning as they were intended. We would like amendments so that if they want to have the benefit of being immune from liability and from being sued they need to take steps to ensure their networks aren’t being used for infringing purposes,” said Hutley.
Attorney-General Brandis was unavailable for comment but his office directed Mumbrella to a radio interview given by him a month ago in which he said: “I haven’t given up on the possibility of developing a voluntary industry-based code of practice.
“That will require the cooperation of the ISPs. But there is always the capacity, if that fails, for government to legislate.”
Nic Christensen and Megan Reynolds
*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the 2012 iinet case was lost on “safe harbour” provisions of the copyright act.