Should copyright holders decide if you have the right to access an ISP?

This isn’t a question you hear very frequently, and yet it is precisely this question that is at the heart of the lawsuit currently being brought against ISP iiNet. As several media and music organisations attempt to sue the ISP for allowing users to allegedly download copyrighted content illegally, they are also pressuring government for legislation that would require ISPs to disconnect users identified by copyright holders as illegal downloaders.

There are many problems with this proposal, including issues like the difficulty in gathering actual evidence that someone is downloading illegal content, rather than just a lot of content (i.e. large file sizes and download limits being reached has little to nothing to do with the contents of said files). There are also issues to do with the presumption of innocence that is the legal standard in this country and the perceived bias of an industry-based investigative branch.

Research indicates that Australian internet users are downloading more content than ever before and a lot of it is obtained illegally. Australian media companies are feeling the pinch as the turn away from traditional media forms is impacting on revenues.

Unfortunately for all parties involved, the current debate has been framed around something very few people care about – artist and industry revenues. There’s no dispute that the artists and companies themselves care very passionately about their revenues, but it’s hard to the point of impossibility for a teenager with a part time job to feel all that guilty about denying an artist (who is rapping about their new Bentley) $1.69 on iTunes.

What is far more interesting is the concept of supply and demand economics as applied to the delivery of media based entertainment. In this regard the organisations involved really can’t blame anybody but themselves. For over a decade now there has been an irrepressible growth in the demand for downloadable content. The market spoke and it spoke resoundingly, with a clear voice. When the media giants ignored the voice of the people, the people did what comes naturally – they did it themselves.

The consistently protectionist approach taken by media organisations to their existing distribution channels and revenue models is the direct cause of their current lag behind the technology. But all is not lost for media companies. As more and more are discovering, there is interest in legitimately available digital content. There is actually a lot to attract users to legitimately accessible content, including with paid models.

Any enterprising media organisation really should be taking advantage of the opportunities inherent in their offering and marketing these to their advantage. Benefits of legitimately sourced downloads include:

  • The quality and security of files
  • The speed of downloads
  • The potential of subscription models rather than per download models
  • The provision of early/immediate releases

And they go on, imagine the marketing potential if the cost of legal downloads was offset by not being counted against a user’s download quota. The simple fact is that for better or worse downloading is here to stay – the market has demanded it. The question now needs to be whether we are better served by making a growing segment of society criminals, or if we can all enjoy better living through technology.