Piracy lawsuits in Australia: Am I at risk?

Piracy
Australia is, according to the figures, a nation of content pirates with a particular taste for Game Of Thrones. The issue of whether or not you’ll face legal action is back at the fore again with lawyers seeking out individual Australian user’s details. Should you be worried?

Delimiter reports on the move by Marque Lawyers, which is apparently petitioning a number of Australian ISPs for details pertaining to individual users, presumably then so they can instigate legal action against them in some fashion. It’s a good precis of where we are on the subject, and worth reading before continuing on.

Now, copyright infringement/piracy is an issue that many online see as a victimless crime because, variously, the content creators charge too much, or they lock it away as an “exclusive”, or simply because big entertainment conglomerates are big, or whatever.

I don’t agree with that, but then that’s a circular road that I’ve been down plenty of times beforehand.

The other issue, though, is that people are bold in their piracy because they see it as an effectively anonymous crime. It’s why those rather annoying anti-piracy ads used to scream about not stealing cars.

Most people would be embarrassed to be outright labelled as “thieves”, unless they could justify it to themselves as being some kind of moral stand for whatever reason — see, again, victimless crimes above. But people are bold; they not only tend to pirate, but they tend to boast about it, either in discussion about piracy, or by mentioning on social media that they’re watching something that hasn’t been on some form of legal broadcast in Australia.

It happens all the time, to the point where it’s been utterly normalised for a large segment of the population.

The lawsuits do bring up the fact that, while you might think you’re anonymous online, the reality is that this is very rarely actually 100 per cent true. At the endpoint, you’re only connected to the Internet because you’ve got a recognisable IP address. Yes, you can mask that to an extent, and there are always going to be arguments over who at a given IP address engaged in copyright infringement, but then if you’ve commented on, say, Game Of Thrones an hour before Foxtel’s started broadcasting it, you’re not exactly being subtle about it, are you?

The other big issue with online piracy is that it’s big — that is, there are significant numbers actually engaging in piracy, and not enough in the way of resources to chase them all down. That does lessen the risk in a mathematical sense, but it won’t matter a lick of difference in terms of damages if you are the one to be prosecuted. It’s not clear from this latest legal adventure quite what the IP rights holders would seek in damages, but there’s scope for them to be substantial.

That’s always been a bit of a public perception sticking point when it comes to chasing legal solutions, because a headline like “Single mother forced to pay $11,000,000,000 for downloading one Justin Beiber song” doesn’t look good for anyone. Least of all her, because, let’s face it, she’s suffered enough listening to the song in the first place. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen as a cautionary case, though.

So what should you do? It’d be easy to say “don’t pirate content”, and as someone who creates content for a living, it’s a viewpoint I’d strongly advocate for — but I’m not going to be hypocritical and say that I’ve never watched pirated content. It’s a terribly common thing, and as noted above, one that’s viewed as quite normal and acceptable. Again, I’ve written about this kind of thing before. But the reality right, now, especially in light of the fact that the copyright case against iiNet didn’t go in AFACT’s favour is that end consumers pirating content are the next step in the chain for copyright holders to pursue. Which means you, if you’re pirating content, and presuming that they’ll never target just you is just that little bit less certain than it was yesterday.

Equally, if you do want to take up the “moral” stance to justify piracy, there’s a much better avenue than pirating it in the first place, because all you’re doing there is confirming demand, as well as placing yourself at slight legal risk. Stop watching, stop supplying the end cash be it in sales or ad viewing, and make public noise about it and why.

To take the Game Of Thrones example, if you don’t like the Foxtel exclusive on it, send messages to HBO making it clear. There’s a clear and pressing need for a more 21st century approach to content availability, even though it’s unlikely we’ll all agree on what a “fair” price is any time soon.

What I think of as “fair” is apparently too much for many, including plenty of tech journos I’ve discussed it with.

Still, hit a big entertainment company in its hip pocket while making it clear they’re actually losing viewers and they’ll listen. Pirate it, and (at least for now) they’re within their rights to chase you down in a legal context, while remaining sure that there’s still an audience.

Image: No Frills Excursions

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