Tag Archives: Australia

Australia Sees a Shift Towards Legal Streaming Services

Netflix has only been around in Australia for six months but it is already showing signs of steering online viewers back to licensed content. Along with home-grown peers like Presto and Stan, the company that launched down under back in March has helped to usher in a tangible drop in piracy, according to consumer group Choice.

Reliefmap of Australia

Reliefmap of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The organization focused on two main areas: Australians who identify as “regular pirates” and those who have engaged in at least one unlicensed content act – downloading or streaming – in the past year.

In Choice’s follow up to its 2014 study those numbers dropped by three and six percent respectively, showing minor but not insignificant shifts against acts of piracy, given the short time frame in question.

Extending out to several years, if these trends continue then the signs for legal streaming – and the compensation such services bring for rightsholders – are promising. 

At this early stage, there is a lot of room for legal streaming services to expand into the public consciousness. Every subscription to a legitimate service means a consumer contributing to the creative economy and less likely to take from that same pot by accessing content from unlicensed sources.

The arrival of international services like Netflix should also spur competition among native platforms, encouraging spending on exclusive content and original titles that resonate with Australian audiences.

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We need look only to the North American ecosystem to see the benefits of widespread legal streaming success. It’s not just Netflix with Emmy Awards for House of Cards and critical acclaim for new series like Narcos (both of which Australians can now access in full, as an aside). Whether the investment in new productions by Hulu, the launch of a dedicated streaming service by HBO, or the Amazon investment in Top Gear presenters that CEO Jeff Bezos himself has described as “very, very, very expensive,” it is clear that not only does legal streaming support creative production, it actually drives that creativity to the next level as competing services try to outdo each other to attract more subscribers.

As we covered in our recent spotlight on Scandinavia, no single anti-piracy tactic should stand alone if we expect to see success. Each must be supplemented by a strong national stance against piracy sites, and education for the public as to how they can avoid unlicensed content and support creativity through legal channels. The final leg of that stool involves competitive and attractive streaming services, however, and the increased availability of those services in Australia seems to support that as an important element to curb piracy, even at this early stage.

Geo-dodging Thrusts VPNs Into the Global Piracy Debate

Earlier this year we looked at the growing trend of geo-dodging, a process whereby a user in one country can use a server in another country to access content with geographical release restrictions.

The act uses virtual private network (VPN) providers to bypass the online footprint that would otherwise flag their general location and raise the access limitations requested by rights holders.

 

Up to now, geo-dodging has been a secondary concern in the fight against piracy. Now, though, we see cases in New Zealand of television companies threatening to sue VPN services, bringing the trend to the front of technology and intellectual property headlines. Four of New Zealand’s most prominent media companies, SKY, TVNZ, Lightbox and MediaWorks, have joined together to deliver warning letters to VPNs and the internet service providers (ISPs) who enable their user activity.

While geo-dodging has frustrated companies like Netflix, which is known around the world but not available in all major markets, the greater focus has been on fighting direct piracy activity, such as unlicensed file-sharing, torrents and pre-release leaks.

Users getting around geographical content restrictions fell further down the list for two reasons: 1) the technology to accomplish geo-dodging was either not widely available to, or understood by, a majority of users, and 2) often it involves a paying subscriber in one country, so at least there is a sense that content is paid for, even if it isn’t authorized.

In other cases, such as US residents accessing the BBC’s UK-based iPlayer service, the issue is further blurred by the fact that the state broadcaster does not directly charge for its platform, though British tax payers do fund the organization as a whole. At its most basic, though, viewers are accessing content that wasn’t intended for their market, wrenching control from rights holders, and therein lies the problem.

As VPN apps become more common, so geo-dodging on legitimate content platform becomes more of an issue for anyone hoping to license their content to others.

As this practice grows into the public consciousness, it comes back to the very simple concept that content creators and rights holders have the right to choose where and when that content appears. The fundamentals of the licensing system – the market place through which creators can set a value for their content and allow others to use it based on demand, or simply artistic vision –  require that restrictions are respected by broadcasters, intermediaries, and viewers alike.

Though broadcasters and legitimate intermediaries tend to respect those restrictions and, indeed, pay a premium when they want to remove them, piracy facilitators and viewers . VPNs will have to decide which side of the fence they’re on, and how long they can play the privacy card before the weight of intellectual property law gives them a more serious problem to deal with.

 

Australia’s New Copyright Bill Promises Action Against “Flagrant” Piracy

English: Australian flag seen flying in Toowoo...

Australian flag flying in Toowoomba, Queensland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia is our location for the latest clampdown on content piracy, as the country’s government floats new legislation that would significantly expand the ability of rights holders to challenge sites that host their work without permission.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 proposes measures that would require carriers to block sites that are found to infringe on IP, or those who facilitate such infringement, with “flagrancy” or “disregard.” Such language clearly targets willful piracy, while offering a mechanism to flag infringement to services that are unwittingly being used to get around the law.

There has been some push back against the ability of plaintiffs to bring an unlimited number of blocking requests before the Australian courts to take action against them, but there are a number of checks and balances within the bill to ensure only legitimate complaints make it through.

First and foremost, the courts in which cases will be brought have significant room to interpret each claim on its own merits, or lack thereof. The legislation mentions “reasonable steps” in many sections, and grants judges the ability to “limit the duration of, or rescind or vary an injunction.” That provides a lot of space to send warnings, set expiration dates on penalties, and hear appeals based on improved behavior by infringing sites.

That last point is crucial, as a key part of intellectual property enforcement should be the ability for sites to realize their mistakes and rehabilitate to become legitimate content providers. As we’ve seen with the US Trade Representative’s “Most Notorious Markets” initiative, the mere act of flagging a site’s infringing activity can be enough to prompt a change. When attached to a court order and the threat of operations being curtailed, the law starts to give rights holders some legal bite, where in many cases they have only the bark of flagging piracy and hoping intermediaries will take care of the rest.

In Australia and around the world piracy really comes down to two camps, those who intentionally host infringing content for their own profit, and those who run a service that is abused by others to host said content. For the former, the examples of Megaupload and The Pirate Bay are the path that lies ahead, being pursued across the globe until illegal operations are shut down.

For those who lie in the more gray area of intermediary, there must be a process that raises the question of a piracy problem and requires the operation to act promptly to remedy it. Stamping out piracy on any platform, in Australia or hosted further afield, sets the stage for online carriers to run a completely legitimate service that operates on the right side of copyright law and attracts reliable investment on that basis.

When infringement is flagged but a service still opts to look the other way, or fight legal action, that’s where the line is crossed between being “unwitting,” and moves into the “flagrant” piracy that Australia’s new legislation will take aim at, should it pass into law. In that case, the number of block requests is of little concern.

What really matters is how any service accused of infringement makes its case, and how quickly it acts to remedy the piracy problem, if and when the court rules that one exists. Creators have neither the time, nor the inclination to spend filing for the removal of content from legitimate sites. For any situations where such examples slip through, it’s only right and proper that a trusted legal system be brought into play to dismiss the case.

Additional powers for creators to protect their intellectual property, balanced by the ability of a court to hear their complaints and judge them against the country’s legal framework. Beyond the usual scaremongering that occurs by those afraid of being caught with their hands in the cookie jar, such legislation should be welcomed with open arms by anyone who respects creativity and the intellectual property rights that come with it.

House of Cards Piracy Shows Why Legal Global Streaming Works

It’s a universal truth that where demand goes unsatisfied, piracy quickly follows. For the creative industries, there are high hopes that an equally predictable trend will unfold: where legal streaming services roll out, piracy quickly tails off.

It’s been a theme that characterized much of February for us, from the news that Norway, where streaming music services dominate, has seen a dramatic reduction in piracy, to the post-Oscars analysis of where Academy Award winning titles are available and how piracy spikes if they’re not.

House of Cards piracy is the latest example to underline this phenomenon, as season 3 of the Netflix original series prompted a surge in social media and viewing activity in markets where the platform is active, and soaring piracy levels in countries where it isn’t.

 

Season 3 was only released last Friday, yet unlicensed viewing in countries around the world already numbers in the six figures, with China heading the illegal access list at more then 60,000 downloads. That doesn’t begin to factor in a number of other methods of finding the program without paying for the privilege, as technology like VPN access helps viewers to bypass geographical restrictions and log in to the same version of Netflix made available to U.S. consumers.

Although there is also illegal access in countries where Netflix does operate successfully, not least the U.S. and United Kingdom, the general consensus is that any market will have some amount of residual piracy.

While that element needs to be tackled with more familiar education and enforcement tactics, promoting legal access channels and penalizing where pirates knowingly disregard them, the most promising new prong in fighting copyright infringement is rolling out legitimate streaming services in markets where they don’t currently operate.

In the case of House of Cards this would of course be Netflix, first and foremost, although it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which the company licenses such a popular title to another service if it can’t get into the market itself. China springs to mind in the first instance, given the censorship issues and other red tape for American companies operating in the country, but there are enough other international markets in which Netflix isn’t being compensated at all for its hit production and would surely love to bridge the gap with licensing income.

Continent of Australia from space. Australia i...

Continent of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile it’s Australia that provides the most immediate case study of how introducing a legal viewing alternative will impact piracy levels. Frequently found atop the illegal viewing figures despite its relatively small consumer base, the country saw House of Cards piracy almost on a par with China.

Here, however, Netflix seems all set to launch this month, giving consumers almost no time to wait for the popular title and everything else that the company’s expansive archives will bring.

If Australians decide that convenience (and, we would hope, copyright) trump the awkward access of covert connections and malware-plagued piracy sites, then piracy levels should decline.  The experiment is ongoing, but the early results are promising that legitimate digital channels can connect viewers around the world to content they love, without having to resort to illicit and unreliable access points to get it.

 

TPP Trade Negotiations Re-open in Australia

The latest round of talks to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership began in Canberra, Australia yesterday, bringing the twelve participating nations back together to discuss wide-ranging trade issues.

The negotiations will have a significant impact on how the major nations handle intellectual property rights, among other things, and an early leak of the copyright proposals has stoked online opinion, even before any clear consensus has been reached by participants.

Canberra Australia

Canberra Parliament | Image Credit: Brenden Ashton

 

The provisions include a standard copyright term, generally mooted as life of the creator plus somewhere between 50-100 years, measures to prevent getting around Digital Rights Management systems designed to prevent piracy, and a form of penalizing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for illegal access that occurs through the connections they run.

On the latter point participating nations are being particularly careful. Despite feeling that ISPs have a supporting role to play in enforcing intellectual property law, the tendency towards draconian measures such as long term disconnections and jail time has long since passed. The desire now, as indicated by Australia’s attempts to put cost limits in place and the wider desire for some form of intermediary “safe harbor,” is to bring ISPs more effectively into the fight for copyright protection. This is something that their business depends on, given how much content is consumed online and the increasing popularity of streaming music and movies.

As early drafts of the proposal confirm, the end game here is to create “remedies for rights holders to address copyright infringement in the online environment.” This has to be a good thing for creative rights, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride for the TPP so far.

Even with opposition to the way the negotiations are being held behind closed doors (not at all irregular for early draft international treaties) and the concern that any legislation will overreach (though individual nations will still be responsible for how they integrate any requirements into their own legal systems), the outcome of the TPP should accomplish a long overlooked goal: to help creators take control of their intellectual property rights beyond their own borders.

 

Australia’s Foxtel Takes Aim at Pirates

Foxtel Logo

The success of Australian media company Foxtel should not be used as an excuse for piracy, according to its CEO Richard Freudenstein. Speaking at Sydney’s Copyright Forum, Freudenstein contended that the livelihood of professionals in the entertainment industry was being threatened by piracy. “I think there is a real risk that people see this as all about big companies. It’s about writers, it’s about directors it’s about people selling popcorn in movie theatres,” Freudenstein said.

Interestingly, Google’s Australian head of public policy Ishtar Vij responded that the Australian government’s move to crack down on pirates could stifle creativity and place an undue burden on creative professionals. She added, “”Content owners need to be able to control their content online but it can’t be done in a way that compromises the broader ecosystem.” That’s a more assertive position than Google has taken at home in the U.S. Freudenstein responded  to Google, saying, “We’ll have a lot more cats on skateboards and a lot less Game of Thrones,” he said.

The video wars in Australia are set to enter a new stage as Netflix readies itself to enter the market. Just last month Foxtel lowered the price of its basic cable package by half to about A$25. Freudenstein said it was a response to affordability issues. Others contend it was b brushback directed against Netflix. Stay tuned. Things are heating up Down Under.