Copyright holders certainly have legitimate grievances when it comes to piracy. People who turn to the BitTorrent channel to watch the latest blockbuster movies are stealing and it’s delusional to tell yourself otherwise, no matter how justified you feel in your actions.
That said, it’s hard to feel sorry for Australia’s copyright police when they’re so determined to shoot themselves in the foot at every opportunity.
Australia would already have a three-strikes piracy rule, were it not for the fact that content holders expected someone else to pay for it. Meanwhile the backers of Dallas Buyers Club would know the names of Aussie 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.
Now, Village Roadshow is preparing to drag small-time pirates through the courts and block 40 more torrent sites in Australia. Meanwhile, it’s decided to sit on The Lego Batman Movie for two months after its release in US cinemas.
Here’s why Village Roadshow’s crackdown sequel looks like a box office disaster.
Piracy filters flop
All that Australia’s pirate hunters have to show for their efforts is a laughable piracy website blocking regime, which took years to enact yet can be bypassed in seconds.
You don’t need to be some kind of technical wizard to beat Australia’s piracy filtering with a single click – using a Virtual Private Network, proxy server, DNS workaround or Socks5 proxy. The answers are a Google search away and children already use these kinds of tricks to sneak into Facebook at school.
Despite this Village Roadshow plans to call for another 40 piracy-related websites to be blocked, according to CNET Australia, apparently under the impression that this will have a major impact on Australian piracy rates. That’s certainly debatable if the UK experience is anything to go by, with the Brits breaking piracy records last year when downloading Top Gear reboot The Grand Tour, even though the country has had piracy website filtering in place for five years.
After fighting Australian piracy for years and making very little progress, it seems Village Roadshow has decided to go back to basics and start “suing infringers”. Dragging small-time pirates through the courts is a tactic which harks back to the music piracy wars and history tells us that it tends to turn into an unmitigated PR disaster which hits children and pensioners.
Take your own advice
Rather than saber-rattling, perhaps Village Roadshow could try giving the people what they want. We’re forced to wait seven weeks after the US to see The Lego Batman Movie in the cinemas, even though Village Roadshow head honcho Graham Burke vowed to do better in future after conceding that delays with the first Lego movie lost millions of dollars to piracy.
The delay doesn’t give Australians the right to steal the movie – we do have an overblown sense of entitlement when it comes to these things – but Village Roadshow isn’t helping its cause when it doesn’t even have the sense to take its own advice.
See you in court
At this point it’s tempting to say the copyright police have learnt nothing and we’re right back where we started, but that’s not quite true. Keep in mind that the copyright holders actually won the Dallas Buyers Club case. They only backed down because the judge wanted guarantees that they wouldn’t use scare tactics to extort money from people.
If Village Roadshow learns from the mistakes of the ill-fated Dallas Buyers Club campaign and curbs its enthusiasm for punitive damages, it can probably convince a judge to force Australia’s Internet Service Providers to play ball and hand over the names of offending customers – as long as due process is followed in the courts.
Will it make a difference? Not really. Serious pirates won’t get caught in Village Roadshow’s net, most don’t even use BitTorrent-based file sharing. Even the most casual pirates are cloaking their activities after years of empty threats from the copyright police.
Village Roadshow is hoping to make an example of a few hapless small-time downloaders to strike fear into the hearts of others. They’ll make a few headlines but if the fear-mongering of the Dallas Buyers Club fiasco didn’t scare Aussie pirates straight then perhaps it’s time to change tactic.
A show of good faith, such as sticking to its word on local cinema release dates, would go a long way to mending Village Roadshow’s strained relationship with Australian movie fans. What would it take to get you away from file-sharing and back in the cinema?