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Monday, 21 March 2011 16:14

Pirates disregard fines and laws


The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, AFACT, which now has just two days left to file an Appeal with the High Court if it wants to further pursue internet service provider, iiNet, over its allegations of copyright theft, may be interested to learn of a new independent study which suggests that fines and tougher laws are unlikely to stall piracy of films, books, music or software.

Professor Julian Thomas, Director of Swinburne University's Institute for Social Research said that a study of piracy in emerging economies, conducted by the US based Social Science Research Council; 'underlines the need for alternatives to hard-line enforcement and prosecution,' which had failed to stamp out piracy in international markets.

Professor Thomas said that there were lessons for Australia from the report which found that 'price is the major factor driving piracy.' For Australia he said this finding had particular implications with regard to competition in the industry, and also the need for ISPs such as iiNet to work with the copyright industry to develop 'workable models' allowing the two sectors to more comfortably co-exist.

Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, which is based on three years' study of pirate networks in India, China, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico and Russia, argues that global anti-piracy enforcement has largely failed. 'Previous policies have focused on enforcement, like tougher laws, stronger police powers and heavier penalties to curb piracy,' report author Joe Karaganis said in a release issued today by the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and  Innovation.

He said that 'Our studies of developing countries show that piracy should be viewed as an economic problem, not merely a crime.'

Lack of competition leading to higher prices was seen as one spur to piracy. The report found that relative to local income levels, the cost of a CD or a copy of Microsoft Office is typically five to ten times higher in Russia, Brazil or South Africa than in the US or Europe.

While the report did not attempt to quantify the extent of piracy in these markets, it does reference earlier analysis.  In Russia for example it noted that 68 per cent of software is pirated.


Will the IIA's code of conduct work? Read on

Professor Thomas said that while pricing in a developed nation such as Australia was possibly less of a factor in driving piracy levels, he did believe more competition and improved distribution would help keep piracy in check, especially if coupled with an industry code of conduct.

The Internet Industry Association has recently indicated that it will fast track the development of a code of conduct for its members in light of the recent iiNet Federal Court appeal judgement. AFACT has given its cautious approval to this announcement.

According to Professor Thomas the codes of conduct were a logical next step following the iiNet case, although he noted; 'It remains to be see whether they work.'

Possibly even more important he said was increased competition and better distribution networks. These couple with codes of conduct could help improve the piracy situation.

'This is a complex issue. It will not be solved by a magic ingredient, but the IIA is doing the right thing,' he said.


The IIA code is intended to provide internet service providers and other internet intermediaries greater certainty around their legal rights and obligations. It is also intended to provide guidance about what ISPs should do if they face allegations of copyright infringement by their clients.

Legal action seems to have very limited effect according to the report. It notes; 'Despite the stream of lawsuits and site closures, we see no evidence - and indeed very few claims - that these efforts have had any measurable impact on online piracy.'

It however acknowledges the fact that content providers are increasingly looking to ISPs as the 'choke points' when it comes to monitoring, blocking and punishing infringing behaviour, and also supporting three strikes style legislation which obliges ISPs to block access to the internet for repeat copyright infringers.

Longer term it suggests that content providers will look to additional technical measures to protect their intellectual property. But it warns; 'Stronger consumer-directed enforcement is certain to produce an arms race between encrypted, anonymised services and industry detection techniques. Although the industry currently presents graduated response as an effective response to consumer piracy, it is far from clear that it will prove legally or politically viable, or do more than shift users to other forms of distribution.'

Report authors Joe Karaganis and Ravi Sundaram will speak at a public lecture to be held at the State Library of Victoria on Thursday evening.


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