After years of complaints from mainly Hollywood-affiliated companies and anti-piracy groups, Australia is now having to deal with its online piracy issues.
Faced with deadlock the government ordered ISPs and entertainment companies to find a solution and against a backdrop of failed negotiations, last week telecoms body Communications Alliance published a draft proposal on behalf of its ISP members.
Titled ‘Copyright Notice Scheme Industry Code‘, the document outlined a graduated response “three strikes”-style mechanism to deal with file-sharers. It was put together in concert with rightsholders, so it’s fair to assume Hollywood is somewhat satisfied with the framework.
The same cannot be said about Australia’s leading consumer group, however.
Choice, which has long warned against a file-sharing crackdown, says that current proposals raise the specter of a streamlined conveyor belt of consumers heading towards a notoriously litigious entertainment industry.
“Although an ‘education scheme’ to stop piracy sounds harmless, the proposed Code will actually funnel internet users into court actions where industry can seek unlimited amounts of money for alleged piracy, and provide a way for rights holders to gain access to your internet records and personal details so they can sue you or send you a letter demanding payment,” the group warns this morning.
Highlighting mechanisms already in place in the US, UK and New Zealand, Choice says that the proposals for Australia are the worst of the bunch. ‘Education’, ‘Warning’ and ‘Final’ notices could be followed by rightsholder access to subscriber details alongside threats of legal action and potentially limitless fines.
“The system proposed by the industry purports to be educational, but clearly has a focus on facilitating court actions. There is no limit on the amount of money that a rights holder can seek from the customer,” Choice explains.
Also under fire is consumer access to remedy should they have complaints about notices received in error, for example. While there is a system being proposed, access costs Internet subscribers $25, and even then the adjudication panel is far from impartial.
“If a consumer objects to any notice received, they can lodge a complaint with a largely industry-controlled body. There is no avenue for appeal if the consumer disagrees with the decision made,” Choice complains.
In order to raise awareness of these shortcomings, Choice says it has now implemented its own “three-strikes” program. And the first notice is about to go out.
“CHOICE is concerned that this scheme will funnel consumers into legal action, bypassing ordinary checks and balances. We’re sending an Education Notice to the Minister for Communications to let him know about the dangers of these ‘education’ measures for consumers,” the group says.
The notice to Malcolm Turnbull reads as follows:
You are receiving this Education Notice due to a complaint from the Australian public that it has detected the development of a damaging, industry-run internet policing scheme in your portfolio.This scheme will allow big Hollywood corporations to obtain consumers’ contact details and internet records from Internet Service Providers, based on unproven accusations.
There is no limit to the amount of money that could be sought in court. In the US, a student was recently ordered to pay $675,000 for downloading and sharing 30 songs.
You may not be aware of this anti-consumer scheme. Perhaps somebody else in your household accessed your internet account and provided instructions to your Department without your knowledge.
If you believe this is the case, please forward this notice to the person who may be responsible. If the Government is serious about addressing piracy, it needs to address the real causes of the problem: the fact that Australians pay far too much for content that is often delayed or completely unavailable..
We know that you are a well-educated consumer, so we ask you to step in before it is too late.
This Education Notice is your first warning. If Australian consumers detect further infractions, we reserve the right to take further action.
The warning letter is being “authorized” by the Australian public who are being asked to sign a petition in support of Choice’s position.
After just a few hours online the petition is already close to reaching its initial target but whether it will make any difference remains to be seen. It’s taken so long for the ISPs and Hollywood to agree on any action against piracy, it will take something huge to derail it now.