In January 2014, the European Commission awarded a contract to the Dutch firm Ecor to research sales displacement (loss) rates on copyrighted content due to internet piracy. The report was completed in May 2015 but it appears the European Commission didn’t like the report’s conclusion – the results were skimmed and buried until Julia Reda from Pirate Party Germany launched a freedom of information request to make the document publicly available[1]. It confirmed what Pirate parties around the world have been saying all along – that piracy cannot be conclusively said to cause financial harm to authors and creators, and that there are choices for those selling copyrighted works which are more likely to boost their sales than further attempts at cracking down on piracy via regulations or rights management, which often breach and erode the civil rights of everyone.

It’s true that the study did find the strongest potential displacement effect (sales loss) in films and TV shows at 27-40% for the first year of release with this loss being most prominent in cinema visits, where distribution companies will often restrict access through other channels to try and funnel consumers into their preferred medium (cinema). It’s interesting to note also that this potential loss was offset by an increased rate of legal streaming and DVD rentals as a potential side effect of online piracy. What’s extremely interesting is that the study found the average consumer ideal (most willing) price for films and TV shows was below the average market price, suggesting overpriced content is a significant driver of piracy rates[2.1].

Using an alternate approach the report also suggested there may be positive links between piracy and legal transactions of media, that increased piracy in some instances resulted in increased content sales. This was most prominent in concert goers who also streamed or downloaded music, and people who downloaded games[2.4]. Pirates who illegally downloaded large amounts of content were not found to have caused any lost sales[2.2][2.3].

In an analysis of other studies examining the effects of piracy, there were many conflicting or insignificant results. Earlier studies (2000s) tended to show a decrease in physical sales correlated with an increase in digital piracy, however this can be explained by the rise of the internet and how much easier it is to access content online[2.4][2.5]. The study did not examine the effects of regional or platform availability into the rates of displacement, although ease of access to content is often cited as the most common motivation for piracy among Australians[3][4][5][6].

Pirate Party Australia opposes stifling monopolies[7] on the basis that they needlessly drive up costs for the end consumer. Pirate Party Australia propose the introduction of a new Creative Works Act[8] to limit corporate rightsholder abuses through copyright law on creativity and culture, as this report has shown the claims of rightsholders need to be tested with evidence before legislators further extend copyright laws causing more harm than good.

[2.1] p170
[2.2] p149
[2.3] p139
[2.4] p80
[2.5] p140

Responding to the Attorney-General’s refusal to publish more than 5,500 submissions on the Government’s proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, the Pirate Party has lodged a freedom of information for the release of those documents[1]. The refusal to release these documents has been referred to as “ironic” given the amendments were designed to improve freedom of speech in Australia[2]. In May this year the Attorney-General announced the Government was reconsidering the amendments[3].

Brendan Molloy, Councillor of the Pirate Party commented: “This is an unusual and overwhelming number of submissions. In our experience legislative inquiries and reviews are unlikely to reach 100 submissions. The fact that over 5,000 were received demonstrates an obviously enormous public interest in the legislation, and opposition must have been extreme for the Government to be so tight-lipped on these submissions. There is no decent reason why these submissions should not be made available to the public.”

“This Government has shown a worrying tendency against transparency in the ten months it has been elected. There has been a pattern of refusal to operate transparently, from refusing to release departmental briefs even after freedom of information requests were made[4] to the expansive and secretive scope of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders'[5]. The Government has refused to allow the Human Rights Commissioner to visit the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island for the preposterous and bureaucratic reason that the Commission’s jurisdiction does not extend past Australia’s borders[6]. In addition to all of this, the appalling track record of the current and former governments has overburdened the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. It takes several months for the OAIC to review rejected freedom of information requests, and instead of providing more resources, the Abbott Government is axing it![7]”

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After a freedom of information request for documents relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement[1] was deemed to be not in the public interest, Pirate Party Australia turned to crowdfunding to raise the $1,080 processing fee[2]. The Party raised the money within the first hour of launching the campaign, confirming that there is significant public interest surrounding the international agreement.

“This undoubtedly proves that bureaucrats are not acting as custodians of the public interest, are given far too much discretion when it comes to deciding matters, and have an unnecessarily wide range of options available to them to prevent the public accessing important information,” said Brendan Molloy, who lodged the request on behalf of Pirate Party Australia.

The documents, which were requested from IP Australia, reveal little information, with at least half the 2,376 pages being wholly or substantially redacted. Many of the pages are redacted under Section 33 of the Freedom of Information Act which exempts documents that may damage the security, defence or international relations of the Commonwealth. The section also allows the Government to refuse the release of documents that would divulge information communicated in confidence by a foreign government.

“Section 33 of the Freedom of Information Act is repeatedly used by government departments to withhold information on trade agreement negotiations,” Mr Molloy continued. “It allows near-complete exclusion of the public under the guise of protecting international relations. Australia must be keeping some pretty big secrets from its allies and vice versa. A trade agreement that requires such exclusion is perhaps one we should not be part of.”

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News that the Federal Government’s financial regulator, ASIC, has started forcing Australian ISPs to block websites it suspects of providing fraudulent financial opportunities has set off warning bells for Pirate Party Australia.

The Party has long been a critic of the imposition of filtering regimes on Australian Internet users, taking particular objection to the lack of oversight and competency involved. The ASIC incident has proven to be no exception: 1,200 websites were wrongly and inadvertently blocked as a result of a single request. The IP address used by the fraudulent site was shared with several others, including the independent learning organisation Melbourne Free University[1].

ASIC’s order to block the website relied upon section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to justify the block, appearing to be the second time ASIC has attempted to have a website blocked[2].

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Witnesses at ongoing negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) in Singapore have reported that Disney has called for an increase in copyright terms, to the disdain of the unsurprised Pirate Party Australia[1]. Like all previous rounds it is unclear exactly what is being negotiated, as the process is completely opaque.

Pirate Party Australia is opposed to Australia’s continued involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on the grounds that it is not being negotiated transparently, and leaked texts show strong pushes for stricter intellectual property regimes. Such provisions have been likened to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which Australia is a signatory to, but which last year was defeated in the European Parliament following massive protests across the European Union.

“Yesterday saw the first day of stakeholder negotiations of the latest round. Of particular note was a representative from Disney claiming that copyright terms needed to be expanded to protect its intellectual property, highlighting visits to Disney Land and being able to see IronMan 3 as reasons for longer copyright terms,” said Simon Frew, Deputy President of Pirate Party Australia.

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