Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Communications Alliance proposal: a kinder, gentler 3-strikes

The Communications Alliance has released its proposal for dealing with rightsholders' complaints about ISP's customers engaging in alleged copyright infringements over their networks. The basic structure of the proposal is to provide rightsholders and ISPs a clear way of dealing with allegations of copyright infringements. However, in effect it is another variation of a graduated response system, albeit a kinder, gentler three-strikes.
The key features of the model include:
  • An independent panel for the assessment of alleged infringement and appeals;
  • A system for accrediting rightsholders (including the systems they use for detecting alleged infringements);
  • A system of notices with an emphasis on compliance and education (including specified time frames for alleged infringers to respond or amend their behaviour);
  • A "reset period" when further infringement has not occurred for a specified timeframe;
  • A system of discovery of an alleged infringer's details with a view to private legal enforcement by rightsholders (where compliance has not occurred); and
  • A funding model
This proposal broadly reflects the comments of Emmet, J in Roadshow Films Pty Limited v iiNet Limited[2011] FCAFC 23 and the proposal put forward by iiNet [PDF] in the wake of the case.

Considering that the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) rejected this proposal and have appealed to the High Court (HCA), it is unsurprising that rightsholders have rejected this model, instead continuing to push for models that curtail alleged infringer's right to the presumption of innocence and due process.

In addition to the possibility of a HCA win, rightsholders are also relying on a legislative response from the government who have indicated that they would prefer to hand that process over to vested interests in the ISP and content publishing industries rather than legislating in such a way that provides a balance between industry interests and the public interest.

In the current litigious environment, the Communications Alliance proposal is a relatively balanced approach to the issues that AFACT identified in its complaint while maintaining the interests of ISPs.

Fundamentally, the proposal does not address the issue of the over-regulation of copyright that has created the problem in the first place. As the Communications Alliance itself states:
"Australian consumers' ability to legally access this content in a timely and affordable manner does, however, vary significantly from sector to sector (eg; release of TV programs and movies in Australia can lag months behind US releases). This difficulty, combined with a proliferation of access technologies, such as file-sharing software, has reportedly seen a growth in the frequency of unauthorised access to online content and therefore copyright infringement."
With vested interests controlling government policy on copyright regulation (particularly through international treaties such as the Trans-pacific partnership), it is understandable that rightsholders would refuse to accept that their own actions contribute to online infringement. It is also not surprising that they would continue to push for unbalanced anti-consumer laws to maintain their business models.

To their credit, at least ISPs have made an attempt to balance some of the concerns that have been raised about graduated response systems. However, this proposal has been developed through the prism of ISP interests to avoid being held liable for infringement. The model itself is largely a reflection of the comments of a Federal Court judge ruling on a law that successive governments have largely allowed to be influenced by the interests that are advantaged by those laws.

It is the government's responsibility to legislate to balance the interests of all stakeholders. However, its irresponsible abrogation of its responsibilities to vested interests has resulted in the litigious environment that regularly ignores the interests of the citizens that the government is supposed to represent.

It is time that the market failure that has been created by the over-regulation of intellectual property is re-examined through the prism of efficient and effective regulation. This regulatory analysis ought balance the rights of rightsholders, ISPs and citizens to encourage a dynamic market sparking the innovation that the protection of intellectual property was supposed to achieve in the first place.

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