Piracy bill is a hallucinogen: Husic

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The government’s new crackdown on online piracy is a “regulatory hallucinogen” that does not address the real issue, while further copyright reform is needed to promote innovation, according to shadow digital economy minister Ed Husic.

The federal government last week introduced a bill to expanding the list of piracy websites that internet service providers will be forced to block, and giving complainants the ability to seek an injunction that would require search engines like Google to remove or demote search results for piracy websites.

The bill was produced by the government following a campaign from Australian copyright holders, led by Foxtel and Village Roadshow.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said it would give creative industries “even more powerful weapons to fight copyright infringement by overseas pirate websites”.

“Online piracy is theft. Downloading or streaming a pirated movie or TV show is no different to stealing a DVD from a shop. We are always looking at what more we can do, and we want copyright owners to have the right tools at their disposal to fight online piracy,” Senator Fifield said.

The Opposition has signalled it would support the legislation, ensuring it will easily pass Parliament.

While offering support for the anti-piracy bill, Mr Husic said that too often copyright reform and piracy crackdowns are used by the big copyright holders to avoid adapting to the 21st century.

“I absolutely support this bill but the problem is that the right holders – these bloated, greedy, resistant-to-change rights holders – will always refuse to reform in this space. Copyright reform is used as a way to shield themselves from the modern era,” Mr Husic said in Parliament on Wednesday.

“The internet is not a challenge to rights holders, the mentality of rights holders to move with the times is the biggest challenge to rights holders in this country,” he said.

“They think that by constantly using legal mechanisms the piracy will disappear. But the reality is that piracy is a result of market failure, where providers are making an offering that is not in line with the consumer expectation.”

The problem of piracy will remain until these big copyright holders adapt to the times, and the government’s bill will not have a big impact, Mr Husic said.

“These are the types of bills that the rights holders all champion, but they’re a form of regulatory hallucinogen. They think that if they get this type of reform through then piracy will disappear, but it won’t.

“No-one supports piracy but I also don’t support regulatory hallucinogens like this where they think that if they just crack down on piracy then their need to reform their business model goes away. That’s wrong,” he said.

And the influence of these copyright holders has prevented the government from passing amendments to include tech companies and startups in the copyright safe harbour scheme, Mr Husic said.

“The Coalition bring forward this type of legislation because they don’t have the guts to stand up to rights holders on key reforms in copyright, like safe harbours. It’s too hard for them, they will not argue for it because the big rights holders continually beat down on anyone that wants to open up in this space,” he said.

“The failure of this place to be able to see genuine reform on safe harbours when new digital platforms are emerging in this country that are providing a new way for artists and manufacturers alike to be able to create a new income flow, and we say it’s too hard to remove the legal sword that hangs over their heads.”

He said it’s important to find a balance between protecting artists and content creators while also promoting innovation.

“We need to find a way in copyright reform to protect artists and allow other innovative companies the way forward to be able to generate through innovative ideas new ways of getting things done and creating commercial value in the growth of those firms,” Mr Husic said.

“By all means let’s support this bill but let’s not support this camouflaging of reality where rights holders don’t do anything about their business model, they just ring the bell and get us to rush in here and get another bill about piracy. It’s inconceivable to allow this to occur.”

The government passed the Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill 2017 in June this year, extending safe harbour protections to educational institutions, libraries and key cultural institutions.

But it shied away from extending the protections to tech companies and startups after lobbying from large rights holders.

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