Why The War On Australian Piracy Is Laughably Misguided

Forget pirates, Hollywood need only look in the mirror to see its worst enemy. Here's why.

Right now Australia would have a three-strikes piracy rule, were it not for the fact that content holders expected someone else to pay for it. Why lobby the government and fight for the introduction of an industry piracy code if you're going to piss it away?

Meanwhile the backers of Dallas Buyers Club would already have the names of pirates who downloaded the movie, were it not for the fact that the judge didn't trust them not to abuse that information with speculative invoicing.

Having now shot themselves in both feet, the copyright police still continue to wave their gun around in the air. Even with the politicians and the law on their side, content owners are losing battle after battle due to their own arrogance. They're throwing away money and wasting political will because they're too stubborn to acknowledge what's blindingly obvious to everyone else – they need to win back alienated customers rather than threaten them.

Now the copyright holders are pinning their hopes on Australia's pitiful site blocking regime, which is literally child's play to defeat with one click using a VPN or proxy server.

The first target of the site blocking laws is streaming aggregator SolarMovie, which few people had heard of before Village Roadshow dragged it into the spotlight this week. Once you understand how SolarMovie works you start to appreciate how futile it is to crack down on such sites.

What is SolarMovie?

Just like The Pirate Bay, SolarMovie doesn't actually host content. It's just a directory which makes it easier to find pirated content stashed away in cloud storage services.

Streaming search engines like SolarMovie are more convenient than file-sharing because you don't need to install any software or wait for the video to download. You just click on the movie or TV show you want to watch and you're presented with a list of sources which will play instantly in your browser, just like any other streaming video service.

Of course you're also inundated with the dodgy advertising and questionable software updates which frequent the darker corners of the web.

There are plenty of alternatives to SolarMovie, such as WatchSeries, LosMovies, TubePlus and KissCartoon. Just like BitTorrent search engines, new services and domain names pop up faster than they can be blocked.

These pirate streaming directories have been popular for several years but haven't attracted as much attention as file-sharing. This is partially because it's harder for the copyright police to catch you — when you're watching SolarMovie you're not uploading data to other users. Popular BitTorrent search engines like The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents are adding similar features so you can stream movies rather than download them.

How can content owners fight back?

People are turning to SolarMovie and pirate streaming services because they're convenient and easy to use. The solution to piracy is to give the people what they want, in a convenient manner and at a fair price — reflected in the fact that Netflix is booming in this nation of pirates even though we could steal all of its content elsewhere.

Game Of Thrones: one of the most pirated shows in Australia. Only available on Foxtel. Coincidence?

The movie studios and other copyright holders could do something similar to SolarMovie, with a cross-service search engine linking to legitimate content, but they find it easier to waste their time and money on futile legal challenges than admit they need to change their ways. Politicians also find it easier to back the powerful content lobby than to stand up and demand a better deal for Australians.

We've seen the rise of independent content directories like JustWatch and Gyde, which let you search across popular services like Quickflix, Netflix, Presto and Stan along with the movie rental stores. Look to the actual content owners and the best they can offer is Australia's pathetic Digital Content Guide, which is more of an insult than an olive branch.

Rather than investing in new ideas which could win people back from piracy, the inept copyright lobby continues to favour the stick over the carrot. This misguided crusade has turned people against them and ensured the general public is far better educated as to how to bypass token anti-piracy efforts, driving the problem underground where it's much harder to fight.

Of course out of sight is out of mind and you can be sure that politicians and studio executives will soon claim they're winning the war on piracy by blocking SolarMovie because they haven't caught anyone lately. It's the equivalent of watching cars drive up on the footpath to get around a roadblock but still declaring the roadblock a success because nobody actually drove through it.

How many battles do the copyright police need to lose before they admit they're never going to win this war with superior legal firepower? Their next move should be a significant gesture to acknowledge that Hollywood shares the blame for the piracy problem and wants to work with consumers to find a solution. Of course that won't happen, they'll just embark on new battles they can never win.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


Comments

    I bet you 5 internet dollars that in the next couple of years the copyright lobby will try to get the government pass a bill to ban the use of VPN's.

      I wouldn't be surprised after the Netflix tax, they'll do anything to protect the old model

      You're assuming that the national security lobby doesn't get there first - and they're more likely to succeed, considering how rarely such legislation is meaningfully opposed.

      You can't just ban VPN's there are far more legitimate uses that illegal ones. For instance... ATM's Gaming machines (pokies), TAB (Gambling), Banks, Schools, Government bodies, Just about every business with more than one office.... All these are just a few examples of legitimate uses and needs for a VPN.

        Well, if they think that site blocking is a totally viable way to stop those dirty pirates then they are probably stupid enough to try and go down the "lets just ban vpn's" route

    The movie studios and other copyright holders could do something similar to SolarMovie, with a cross-service search engine linking to legitimate content,

    You mean like Moreflicks? There's actually a few third party services that already do that, you're pretty unlikely to see any first party players support advertising for their competitors though.

    Last edited 21/02/16 1:56 pm

    I agree with this article so much!!
    I actually have a lot of respect for Netflix and other companies understanding current consumers, because traditional media companies have essentially alienated and cultivated Aus into a piracy nation by ensuring we either have no choice to get certain content, or has made obtaining legal content so difficult that learning about piracy and breaking the law is more preferred then getting legal content.

    Media companies have essentially made piracy in Australia a social norm, and for legitimate streaming sites like Spotify, Netflix, and even holders like Steam to be able to do so much in removing piracy even though the billions of hoops they have to pass through to get just a treacle of content here is amazing.

    I enjoyed reading the first few paragraphs, eg "Having now shot themselves in both feet" and "they need to win back alienated customers rather than threaten them".

    Australia's governments (like all the others) have protectionist motivations to start going after Netflix, as it starts to destroy the local entertainment distributors (Foxtel, Stan et al). But unless local entertainment distributors go out of business, geoblocking will continue, because it's companies like that which buy exclusive licenses to content and get everything out of synch. Only global distributors are capable of releasing a show globally, at the same time, and so far on Netflix is even close to being a global distributor (although eventually it will have serious competitors).

    What about the impact of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Copyright owners are all over that one - https://www.choice.com.au/search?q=trans%20pacific

      Oh yeah, once it becomes an actual crime and the cops can track you and arrest you for it, then all bets are off.

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