Film, book and video game industries thrive despite P2P piracy

By John Stanton, CEO, Communications Alliance
Thursday, 14 June, 2012

The recent unanimous and emphatic High Court decision in the case brought by Roadshow Films and other entertainment companies against Australian internet service provider iiNet over online copyright issues has at last clarified the law in what is a highly contentious area.

Whether the High Court decision on its own is enough to get the internet and entertainment/creative industries working together to combat improper file-sharing on the internet remains to be seen.

The High Court ruled that iiNet had not authorised the copyright infringements allegedly perpetrated by iiNet customers through peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies such as Bit Torrent, and thus was not liable for the actions of those customers.

The decision has been welcomed by ISPs across the country, which were fearful of similar lawsuits in circumstances where they have no control over the file-sharing technologies that can be used on their networks.

But the reality remains that online copyright infringement is widespread and hard to control. A raft of different approaches are being trialled or implemented in other countries such as the UK, France, South Korea, New Zealand, Canada and the USA - with no two schemes being alike and none yet being able to claim success.

Content owners from the music, film, publishing and other creative industries in Australia have been in discussion with Communications Alliance, ISPs and the government for months, seeking to agree on an industry-led scheme to educate consumers, encourage them to seek legal sources of content and discourage them from infringing copyright. These talks are struggling with issues including who will pay the heavy costs of operating a scheme to notify and warn customers who have been detected sharing files improperly.

ISPs and other commentators argue that part of the problem is the lack of availability of legal content online; a situation that forces consumers - particularly those outside the USA - to seek alternative and potentially illegal avenues to download the content they are looking for.

For example, a recent episode of the wildly popular HBO production Game of Thrones aired in the US but was unavailable in Australia for eight days, during which time a huge number of copies were illegally downloaded by impatient viewers around the world - many of whom would likely have been willing to pay a reasonable price for a legal copy if it was available.

The price of ongoing online piracy, the content owners warn, will be massive damage to creative industries and a big reduction in the volume of high-quality films, music and other creative content available to Australian and international audiences.

But a comprehensive recent study, The Sky is Rising, commissioned by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (USA) found that - contrary to the dire warnings of the legacy entertainment industry - the market is booming, with ever greater content choices for consumers, more options for creators and many more opportunities for smart businesses and artists to make money.

It found that spending on entertainment as a proportion of income went up by 15% between 2000 and 2008. Feature films produced worldwide each year grew from about 1700 to more than 7000 between 1995 and 2009. New book titles grew from less than 250,000 in 2002 to more than 3 million in 2010. In the same period the video gaming industry revenues skyrocketed and the artists’ share of US music revenues jumped 16% to more than $16 billion.

The report describes a “renaissance era” in creative industries where the only players really threatened are the traditional “middle men” who have controlled distribution and artists’ revenue for decades, but now increasingly find themselves sidelined by new online distribution models.

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