Before we dive into this, we’d like to make something clear. Illegally distributing movies, music, TV shows, software and other digital content is not something we condone. Content creators deserve to be paid for their labour. Ultimately, if the revenues that go to creators are diminished through piracy then the end result will inevitably be fewer people creating content and less quality viewing and listening.
Dallas Buyers Club
In summary, Dallas Buyers Club LLC is a company set up for the management of the movie Dallas Buyers Club. The company asked a number of ISPs to provide them with the details of almost 5000 users who they believed distributed copies of the movie illegally.
Following a court battle, judges ruled in favour of Dallas Buyers Club LLC, compelling the ISPs to give the information over. There’s still some further legal activity to go but the net result is a legal precedent for content distributors to take action against alleged software pirates has been set in Australia.
Netflix, Stan, Fetch and other streaming services
With the arrival of several streaming services, it’s now possible for us to access content over our Internet connections. That means we can now watch movies and TV shows when we want on almost any device we care to use.
Along with services such as iTunes and Google Play, we now have the means to legally download or stream content when, where and how we want.
In other words, one of the key excuses given by those who engage in downloading content illegally is falling apart.
However, content owners and distributors are still living in the 80s and operate as if the Internet doesn’t exist. They seem to think geographic boundaries should define when TVs shows and movies are made available. Unless you’re working for a movie or television distribution business you know this is a broken way of looking at things.
This is the key – piracy is no longer a direct function of cost and convenience. It used to be but we now have solutions in place that make convenient and inexpensive distribution a non-issue. With most streaming services costing around $10 per month, they are significantly less expensive than cable TV and offer greater variety than free to air services.
The NBN Debate
The rapid shift towards streaming media is already putting immense pressure on our Internet connections. Unless you’re already on a fast connection, it’s unlikely that a creaky ADSL connection will let you access these new services with any reliability.
In other words, we have an all-new, innovative business model that radically disrupts a dated service that no longer meets the needs of the market. But the essential infrastructure it depends on is not keeping up.
We’re not interested in a technical debate about what sort of network the country needs in order to access this and any other new and innovative services that might be around the corner. But the government’s seemingly reactive policy is stifling the market’s opportunity to take up a lower cost service that offers better outcomes for consumers.
What does Nirvana look like?
Firstly, let’s accept that there will always be some degree of piracy. No matter how many traffic cameras are installed or security guards are at the train station, there are always some people who speed or try to evade paying a fare.
For those cases, an effective legal framework for detection and prosecution is reasonable.
However, as former Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay recently said about the epidemic of drug use – you can’t arrest your way out of the problem. You need to deal with the reasons.
We now have the means to easily and cheaply deliver content to customers. But it needs content distributors to stop living in the past, imagining they can divide the world into distribution zones. If someone wants a copy of Taylor Swift’s latest music or the most recent episode of Game of Thrones then they will get it.
The Internet has no boundaries and there’s no point pretending you can create them.
We need a broadband network that enables the distribution of media to every home. I’m not a network engineer but I know enough to recognise the original Fibre to the Premises NBN proposal would have satisfied this need. It’s possible other technologies will also support this.
If this was done right, the Dallas Buyers Club LLC decision would drive a reasonable framework for detection and prosecution of people who illegally distribute content (note – I’m not saying downloading, just distribution). Content distributors would remove the incentives for piracy by making content available easily and at reasonable prices. And we would have a broadband network that supported this.
Is that too much to ask?