The Online Infringement Copyright Amendment Bill which the Australian Government has been developing is currently before the parliament. We spoke with Vanessa Hutley, General Manager of Music Rights Australia and Music Australia Councillor, and asked her to fill us in on latest developments.
Q: What is your view on the bill as it is being presented to parliament?
A: The introduction of legislation which will allow rights holders to get court orders to block illegal off shore sites is welcome. Music Rights Australia is currently reviewing the detail of the Bill.
Q: Why is this legislation needed?
In Australia today there are over 30 licensed online music services which offer music to consumers where, when and how they wish to enjoy it, at a range for price points including free on some advertising supported services. Despite the range of choice, according to the IFPI Digital Music Report 2014, approximately 26 per cent of Internet users worldwide regularly access unlicensed services.
Licensed music is available to consumers any way they wish to experience it, yet sites like The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents continue to operate and offer music for which they are not licensed. Those sites generate money for their operators from the advertising which appears on them. A study in 2014 titled Good Money Gone Bad: Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business, by the Digital Citizens Alliance, found that the top 30 sites in the US which stream illegal content, or make it available for download, made on average USD4.4 million each year and in total the top 30 illegal sites made USD227 million.
Q: Whose music is being accessed from these sites?
A: In March 2014, Music Rights Australia reviewed the top five sites identified in that study and, using the ARIA Australia No. One Albums for 2012–2013 as a guide, took a snapshot of those sites on one day and found the following artists’ albums on each of the sites. The y axis on the table above represents the number of torrents available on the site with at least one seeder (A seed is a person who has down loaded at least 10% of the content and whose machine is now also uploading the content to share. They are not just using the material but also making it available for others to use).
Every one of the No. One albums, and much of the particular artists’ back catalogue, appeared on the five illegal sites. All of this music was readily available on a range of licensed online music services, including on free licensed services with advertising. Despite a huge range of licensed online music services, easy access to illegal streaming and download services, including by use of P2P technologies, continues to impact the local and international music market.
It is just such illegal sites which will be the subject of the court orders contemplated in this Bill.
Q: What this will mean for copyright holders?
A: These types of orders have been made in other countries already so there is evidence that they do work. Importantly, every artist whose work is being exploited on these illegal sites gets the benefit of the court order even if they are not a party to the application to the Court. Suppressing these illegal sites will support the legitimate market and importantly allow copyright owners to have their choices about how they make their creative content available more easily respected. Creators should be able to choose how they make their work available, and that includes for free if they so choose. These illegal sites do not respect those choices and make money for the operators only.
Q: Do you think it will work?
A: The Digital Music Report 2014 stated: “In recent years courts in 10 EU countries have ordered ISPs to block users’ access to specific services that structurally infringe copyright law. Courts and authorities in other countries including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey have made similar orders. Website blocking measures implemented by ISPs have been effective. Between January 2012 and July 2013, European countries where blocking orders are in place show BitTorrent use decline by 11 per cent, while European countries without such orders saw Bit Torrent use increase by 15 per cent (ComScore/Nielsen).”
Music Rights Australia has every reason to expect there will be a similar impact on the illegal sites in Australia.
Q: Is this a good outcome?
A: The introduction of a right for copyright owners to obtain injunctions which will require ISPs to block illegal off shore sites will assist rights holders to take proportionate and effective measures to have their creative content protected and respected online. However, there is no silver bullet to address this issue and Music Rights Australia continues work with its stakeholders, APRA AMCOS and ARIA, and other creative industry groups on a range of strategies and programs to ensure consumers know about the sources of licensed content and the negative impact which unlicensed and illegal use has on the creative industries and the music community in particular.
Q: Any other comment you care to make?
A: It is important to remember that this type of court order is not about stopping freedom of expression or freedom of the internet nor do these orders involve filtering content. The target of these orders are illegal off shore sites which are dedicated to making money for their operators and nothing goes back to the artist or those who invest in them.
The licensed content continues to be available and consumers have access to the internet to source that content and in the case of music they have access to over 30 licensed online music services locally and over 400 worldwide. Consumers will continue to get the music they love. The only change is that the illegal site operators won’t continue to make a lot of money from the creativity of others without paying them a cent.