Internet piracy: time for a more progressive solution

Internet piracy: time for a more progressive solution

ESSA Writers
April 17, 2014

Australians are the biggest pirates in the world. Not in the Captain Jack Sparrow sense, but in the modern, more hidden method of illegal online downloads. Australia has the highest per-capita piracy download rate on the planet[1]—with the much anticipated finale of AMC’s hit television programme Breaking Bad being downloaded more in Melbourne than anywhere else in the world, with 5.4% of the world’s downloads.[2]

So are Australians really that much more willing than the rest of the world to subvert the law? Did we all dismiss the ‘You wouldn’t steal a car’ piracy warning with such content? Or, perhaps we can point to other factors to ascertain the dominance of piracy in Australia.

Firstly, let’s assume our demand for products such as Breaking Bad and the latest hit movies, TV programmes and music is similar to that of the US and the UK. When you consider our significantly smaller population size, it doesn’t really make too much sense that we should download more. The numbers don’t seem to add up. But maybe they do—consider this: what other options are available to the end consumers?

Let’s look to overseas for a comparison: in the United States, video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu are prominent—these services allow users to watch the latest TV shows and movies on demand for a small monthly fee. Netflix has spread to the UK and other parts of Europe, but is still not available in Australia. Spotify, a music streaming service that offers a legal alternative to music piracy, was established in Sweden in 2008 and introduced into the UK in 2009.  However Spotify was not brought to Australia until 2012.[3] A common trend is clear—Australia lags behind the rest of the world in offering affordable, legal means of accessing the latest in-demand products. For example, HBO’s Game of Thrones, the latest hot show on the market, is almost completely inaccessible for the average Australian consumer—with the new deal signed between HBO and Foxtel, Foxtel have a monopoly over the legitimate access to the program in this country, where they will be showing the next season exclusively on their network. At around $50 a month per Foxtel subscription, this isn’t exactly going to persuade any Game of Thrones enthusiast to hand over their money to the pay-TV giant. The only other legal option available is to wait months for the DVD release—but is anyone going to wait that long? Not when they get the same product, for free—at the click of a button, with little to no repercussions.

As far as I can see, there are two solutions to this problem: crack down on piracy with tighter regulation and stricter penalties—or offer more alternatives to consumers. With the ephemeral, ever-changing nature of the internet, the first solution seems a little impractical:  the law will always be lagging behind the latest technologies and the latest ways to obtain the newest episodes. Just look at Napster, a P2P file sharing site that was sued for copyright infringement in 1999:[4] after it was shutdown, other file sharing sites such as The Pirate Bay emerged, causing more headaches for policymakers.

However, this is not to diminish the plight that the entertainment industry has been facing for the past decade: the industry needs the consumers’ money to survive. But the realities of the situation cannot be ignored: modern age consumers want to watch their favourite TV shows at their own convenience, and as close to release date as possible. If there aren’t enough legal, affordable options to access these products otherwise—where is the incentive not to pirate? Instead of fighting the tide, policymakers and industry head honchos should be looking to embrace, and work with the new age of pirates.