Australia's ISPs Proposes Controversial Anti-Piracy Plan
Australia's ISPs Proposes Controversial Anti-Piracy Plan

Australia's biggest ISPs are about to embark on a trial, which comes close to emulating the "graduated response" schemes in other countries. It's close, but it misses the target, copyright owners say.

The Communications Alliance, an organization representing Telstra Bigpond, iiNet, Optus, iPrimus and Internode, has proposed an 18-month "notice and discovery‟ trial plan, which would see copyright infringers targeted with educational and warning letters.

Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton, says the proposal is a good deed, intended to reduce online piracy. "We believe the Notice Scheme can greatly reduce online copyright infringement in Australia," he says in a statement, "while protecting consumer rights, educating consumers about how to access legal online content and helping Rights Holders to protect their rights."

But the Australian Content Industry Group (ACIG) isn't applauding the Comms Alliance proposal. According to Vanessa Hutley, spokesperson for ACIG, which represents ARIA and the Music Industry Piracy Investigations unit, the process lacks balance and "falls well short of the expectations we had had for an open, balanced and fair solution."

Vanessa Hutley To Lead Australia's Music Industry Piracy Investigations

The proposal doesn't provide for termination of users' Internet accounts, or push for punitive sanctions to be imposed on their customers. And it gives users the right to appeal if they receive a notice but believe they're in the right.

Content owners are particularly unimpressed with a subpoena process outlined in the Comms Alliance's discussion paper. Should a customer receive the full-extent of the notice process - one education notice, three warning notices and one discovery notice -- right holders must then apply for a subpoena to take copyright infringement action against the account holder.

That means rights holders would need to be directly involved at the pointy-end of the process. ACIG has always called for a graduated response with "an effective sanction," notes Hutley, who adds, "we've never called for termination of consumers' and subscribers' rights." Indeed, a discussion paper on the proposal is careful to never mention the words "graduated response."

Australia's content industries back a model similar to the U.S. Copyright Alert System, announced by the music, movie and ISP industries in July, which carries a range of deterrents according to the severity of the copyright offense.

Australia's legitimate digital music market is in good shape. This year, sources say, digital platforms have delivered gains of more than 30%, pushing the nation's recorded music market into growth. But in the absence of a legislative framework to tackle online piracy in Australia, digital piracy exists here on "a vast scale," according to the IFPI.

As reported in the IFPI's "Digital Music Report 2011," a study by Australia's Internet Commerce Security Laboratory found in April 2010 that 89% of all torrent files from a sample linked to infringing content.

The Comms Alliance scheme will enter another phase of discussion with government and rights holders before it moves ahead. "We continue to engage," explains Hutley. "And we are hopeful that engagement will result in an open, balanced and fair process to protect content online for all content owners."

The Comms Alliance's proposal was published as one of its members, iiNet, enters the final stretch of a long-standing copyright infringement case. Those hearings, actioned by the movies studios' lobby body the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft reachrf the High Court last Wednesday (Nov. 30).