Regulating Online Media Spaces Through Copyright Law

The pervasive nature of 21st century media technologies, has resulted in greater regulations being placed upon audiences as a means to regulate their activities and interactions with such technologies. One particular area in which such developments have become apparent is in the online digital world, whereby illegal downloading and distribution of copyright material has become a common form of copyright infringement. In fact, Australia has infamously become known for its download culture. As a result, in the last two decades, there has been a greater push to regulate, control and prevent infringers from illegally obtaining content. This has largely stemmed from the need to protect the exclusive rights of artists, authors and creators who retain copyright over original works as well as ensure that the creative industries are fairly rewarded for their efforts. The Australian government, legislators and media and communications industries have responded to this issue by expanding and strengthening legal copyright enforcement in the online world.

In the past twelve months, Australian legislators and media communication bodies have taken a number of measures to combat online copyright infringement. For example, in June 2015, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 was enacted by the Australian government. Under this law, copyright holders can apply to a court for an injunction against Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to overseas websites that have a dominate purpose to infringe copyright. 

Along with introducing this new legislation, a new anti-piracy Notice Scheme has also been proposed by the Australian ISP and telecommunications industry body, Communications Alliance. Under this scheme, ISPs will send escalating copyright notices  to customers who have been detected as engaging in online copyright infringement.  

It comes to no surprise that this new graduated response scheme has been embraced by copyright holders, with many commending the Australian parliament for supporting the creative industries through this legislation. Both Australia’s music, film and television industries have conceded that Australians would benefit from this law.

However, research indicates that graduated response schemes are largely ineffective at limiting copyright infringement. Rebecca Giblin (2014, p.195)  examined the efficacy of gradated response schemes across the world and concluded that ‘the evidence that graduated response actually reduces infringement is extraordinarily thin’ and there is little to suggest that such schemes have increased the size of legitimate market. This is because the scheme provides little deterrent effect, with many users ‘often turning to more sophisticated and unmonitored illicit networks rather than legitimate channels to access content’ (Giblin 2014, p.196).

In my opinion, such regulations are unsuccessful because the internet is home to an endless supply of multiple media spaces which enable users to circumvent such regulations. When one ‘illegal’ online space is shot down, another one immediately opens up. This reflects the difficulty in regulating online spaces — the existence of alternative means to access unlicensed material coupled with the rapid and continuous emergence of new platforms, allows online piracy to recover swiftly from any attempts to intervene and cease such activities.

For example, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), proxies and mirror sites enable users to access blocked websites through alternative means. In fact, filters can only result in a temporary reduction in piracy. Within six months, piracy rates return back to pre-filter levels as new sources of pirated material appear.  For example, in the UK, despite the blocking of ‘The Pirate Bay’, the website reappeared within two months, allowing users to directly access illegal content. This is because Pirate Bay switched to CloudFlare, a free global content delivery network (CDN) provider, which allows users to ‘evade the obstructive mechanics that are deployed by prominent broadband networks’.

It also seems that the policy makers behind this scheme have failed to consider audience research and address the core issues as to why Australians infringe copyright in the first place: the lack of accessibility to a wide range of affordable content. Australians experience unjustifiably higher prices than other consumers around the world. The 2014 Parliamentary IT Pricing Review found that Australians sometimes pay up to 50 percent more for goods than those in the US and the UK.

In some cases, Australians consumers are denied access to certain material completely. For example, America’s Netflix offers six times as much content as Australia’s Netflix. Research has found that failure to meet the demand of Australians is problematic because Australian consumers want to support producers of creative content and are willing to pay for copyright goods that are reasonably priced and easily accessible (Dootson & Suzor 2015, p.229). Most Australians often exhaust their legal options before turning to infringing practices (Dootson & Suzor 2015, p.229). As a result, Australians do not feel it is morally wrong for infringing copyright because they believe copyright producers and distributors treat them unfairly (Dootson & Button-Sloan 2014, p.2). 

This suggests that the inaccessibility of content has played an important role in the decisions of Australians to resort to illicit downloading. These trends indicate that if copyright holders wish to combat online infringement, then they must align their interests with the needs of Australians and ensure that Australians also have legitimate access to cheap and convenient content.

It seems that even Americans agree with the concerns raised above! What do you think? Do you think such new measures are justified and will help reduce online piracy? Share your thoughts below!

Reference List

Dootson, P & Suzor, N 2015, ‘The Game of Clones and the Australian Tax: Divergent Views about Copyright Business Models and the Willingness of Australian Consumers to Infringe’, UNSW Law Journal, vol.38, no.2, pp.206-239.

Giblin, R 2014, ‘Evaluating Graduated Response’, Columbia Journal of Law & The Arts, vol.37, no.2, pp.147-210.

Suzor, N & Button-Sloan, A 2014, ‘Intellectual Property and Innovation Law Research Program’ (2014) Queensland University of Technology (Faculty of Law). 

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