We’ve been talking for several months now about the amendments to Australian copyright law currently under consideration by the government there. As a refresher, Australia put a site-blocking policy in place several years ago. That policy has been praised by both government and rightsholders as effective, even as those same interests insist that it doesn’t do enough to stop piracy down under. As a result, the government is currently considering amendments to Australian copyright law that would make it easier for extra-judicial blocks of “piracy sites” and their mirrors, and includes demands that search engines like Google participate in this censorship as well, despite the fact that blocking search returns relevant to a user request is the opposite of what Google does. Predictably, the amendments to the law have wide support across political parties in Australia, and pretty much everyone is sure it’s going to pass as is.
A key aspect of this is that all of the focus is on piracy and how to stop or minimize it, regardless of whatever negative effects that might have on ISPs and a free and open internet. There has been zero focus thus far on whether these legal mechanisms are really the optimal route to addressing this problem. This week, however, one Australian MP decided to grab a microphone and finally take rightsholders to task.
An expansion of Australia’s piracy site-block laws is “a form of regulatory hallucinogen”, Labor MP Ed Husic has said, adding that the voice of the consumer needs to be heard and rights holders should be less “resistant” to digitisation and reforming their systems.
“The big challenge is the freeing-up of copyright to ensure that innovation can spread more widely and to face up to big rights holders and the types of hysterical arguments we get in this space,” Husic said. “These rights holders think that by constantly using legal mechanisms through this place and elsewhere, piracy will disappear. The reality is that piracy is a reflection of a market failure.”
It’s rare that a member of government gets things so absolutely correct on this subject. Far too many rightsholders seem to only have one arrow in their quiver, and that’s the legislative or judicial arrow. What has actually occurred is that a disruptive force, the internet, has changed the possibilities and demand for certain types of content. Does anyone remember the consumers of these products, legitimate and otherwise? They are supposed to have a voice in government as well, and yet they are consistently ignored. But, really, it’s the public and the internet that are driving this whole discussion. How is it possible that they don’t have a seat at the table?
Husic goes on to ask the same question, all while poking lawmakers in the eye for bowing to the wrong constituency.
“As lawmakers, just because we might get a selfie with Richard Roxburgh — I love Rake as much as anyone else — or a political party gets a donation from a rights holder, does not mean that we should stop looking at how to make the types of reforms that balance the needs of creatives and the needs of producers versus the needs of consumers,” he said.
The sad part of all of this is that Husic is the exception, not the rule. When you read that these amendments will almost certainly pass in Australia, that prediction is almost certainly correct. And, when that happens, exactly whose interests will be served? The answer, I think, cannot possibly be “the public’s.”
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