Yesterday, private, mostly foreign owned, rent-seeking copyright maximalists and distribution monopolists celebrated on the dying corpse of Internet freedom in Australia, joyfully cheering in a censored Australian Internet by blocking torrent sites through major Australian ISPs[1]. Their attempts to control how people access content online will be little affected by their supposed gains because they simply don’t understand how the Internet works at a technical or social level. Their attempts as blocking “torrent” sites are laughable despite these companies trying to paint this as a big win.

“Corporations, some of which pay no company tax in Australia[2], yet pay large donations to political parties[3] are using this decision to paint a picture of despicable internet villans using technology to put the entertainment industry out of business,” said Michael Keating, Deputy President of Pirate Party Australia. “In reality, all Australians want is access to media content at a fair price and at the right time, and this decision does nothing to address this issue. If anything, it reinforces the monopoly these companies hold in refusing Australian’s access to content. This also demonstrates how content distribution companies are willing to twist our legal system in their favour by demanding censorship.”

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Ahoy!

With the success of previous strategy meetings, we have decided to call an open Strategy meeting to discuss the urgent topics of defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the first piracy website blocking cases.

This meeting will be held on Tuesday 23 February 2016 at 8:30pm (AEDT) in the #ppau IRC channel, which can be accessed here: https://pirateparty.org.au/irc/

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Today the first test of Australian website blocking laws is being launched. These laws were passed by the Abbott Government last year, and are now being used by Village Roadshow in an attempt to block the free movie streaming site SolarMovie.

"It took them long enough," said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. "They have spent years campaigning for these laws, and 'donated' hundreds of thousands of dollars[1][2] to both the Coalition and ALP in an attempt to put the Internet genie back into the bottle. It then took them over six months to launch their first case."

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The Pirate Party welcomes the latest development in the Dallas Buyers Club (“DBC”) case[1]. Justice Nye Perram’s ruling protects Australians from speculative invoicing, a practice widespread in the US and other parts of the world in which copyright holders effectively extort legal settlements from those they accuse of copyright infringment. Furthermore, DBC was ordered to pay a bond of $600,000 to access contact details of alleged infringers to ensure they abide by restrictions his Honour may order over the content of communications between the rights-holders and the accused unauthorised file-sharers.

“We are pleased to see the Federal Court taking a keen interest in ensuring customers’ details are not used for shakedowns through speculative invoicing,” said Simon Frew, President of the Pirate Party. “We have been concerned that the DBC case would open the floodgates for a burgeoning new industry of copyright trolling in Australia.”

The judgement is a positive step for consumers because it limits the potential scope of damages. The company has not provided a legitimate way for damages to be calculated and Justice Perram has instructed the damages only be calculated in the context of someone viewing the movie, instead of calculating the cost of buying a commercial license to distribute. This ruling accords with the Pirate Party’s position on the issue, as well those of consumer and digital rights groups such as Electronic Frontiers Australia[2], who make the point that the movie retails for almost nothing compared to what might be sought as damages.

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The online copyright infringement marketing research report prepared by TNS for the Department of Communications indicates that the Federal Government’s strategies for reducing online copyright infringement in Australia will be less effective than simply making content more affordable and convenient to access[1]. This vindicates much of what the Pirate Party — among others — has been saying in statements to the media and in submissions on proposed legislation.

“The report prepared by TNS supports what we have been saying all along. The best way to reduce online copyright infringement is by offering competitive services that guarantee easy, cheap and quick access to content, not threatening consumers with legal action or disconnection,” commented Pirate Party spokesperson Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer. “The report explicitly acknowledges that most people do in fact want to pay for the content they consume, and changes in pricing, convenience and accessibility, as well as improving release dates, remain significant considerations — in fact, the lack of options is identified as a reason why consumers have been slow to embrace legal modes of consumption.

“It is very clear that sending threatening letters to consumers will not be as effective as the copyright industry hopes, but instead addressing high costs, low availability, and often significantly delayed release dates compared to the rest of the world will be much more effective. It is also telling that TNS found that consumers who consume from both legitimate and infringing sources spend more money on content than those who consume all of their content legally — it appears many pirates do pay for content after all!

“But it must be stressed: these findings do not reveal anything that we do not already know and that has not already been said before, at great length. Had the Government actually paid attention to the research that has already been conducted, as well as the successful examples of business models that have adapted to meet changing consumer demands, the measures being adopted in Australia would have been recognised at the start as unnecessary and futile.”

The Pirate Party does, however, have some concerns about the report itself, which demonstrates a limited technical understanding and an overly simplistic approach to “legal” and “illegal” consumption.

“TNS’ report leaves a lot to be desired in the way that it handles technologies that can be used to infringe copyright, such that it does feel a little like the blind leading the blind. It would be novel, but useful, to have government — and opposition — policy directed by persons with the requisite degree of technical knowledge in these areas.

“The report also conflated accessing an overseas version of a service like Netflix with illegal consumption, despite it currently being legal under Australian law to do so. This is erroneous at best and does, to an extent, undermine the validity of the research in terms of the rates of illegal or illegitimate consumption of content,” Mr Olbrycht-Palmer concluded.

[1] https://www.communications.gov.au/sites/g/files/net301/f/DeptComms%20Online%20Copyright%20Infringement%20Report%20FINAL%20.PDF