November 25, 2003 | Graham

Drag out and knock down the Drama Queens – Internet Content Providers are coming through

What is it about film people? Of all the possible concerns about the proposed Free Trade Agreement with the USA the last one that has any legs is the complaint that the government won’t protect local content from the Yanks on yet to be invented technological platforms. Looking into the past I can just see Hammurabi doing deals to protect the local clay tablet cunieform industry against the possibility that the Egyptians might invent papyrus scrolls in a couple of thousand years. You can’t legislate for that which you can’t know.
Of course, it’s not the yet to be invented technologies that these people are really worried about – it’s the internet and its uses – and here they show a stunning lack of understanding of new technology. Either that, or they are trying to con the Australian government into the Chinese approach to the web, just so they can prop up their profits. Can you imagine it? We might have to replace all the “www”s in our address bars with “aaa”s so as to operate on our very own national internet to the glory of the father land.
What they are arguing about is not subsidies to the movie industry – the US and Australian governments have decided that they can stay – but local content rules for the broadcast media. Their quandary is that the government can easily regulate a one-to-many broadcast model where the government creates the distribution systems by granting exclusive rights to private companies to commonly owned property, like broadcast spectrum. They can’t do the same with a many-to-many broadcast model which works on privately owned telephone lines and optical cables.
That means that, given enough bandwidth, sometime in the future I may be able to log on to a website and download a movie on demand – the internet version of a video store. Given the choice on cable and free-to-air plenty of people are likely to take advantage of such offers, and you can be sure most of them won’t be downloading Australian product. At least not on the basis of the decisions they make in our video store.
The only way that you could enforce local content rules on video on demand is to regulate what websites consumers could use. Technically this is pretty difficult – ask the Chinese. In fact you don’t have to ask the Chinese as the Australian government has already had its own adventures in this area producing technically impotent laws banning Internet pornography and Internet gambling. But it would be worse than these sorts of laws because you would be trying to enforce some sort of a sharing arrangement – three Indiana Jones movies, plus five Arnie blockbusters on condition you download (but not necessarily watch) one Lantana. How do you enforce a partial prohibition when you can’t enforce a total prohibition?.
I’m sure there are ways of doing it, but they either involve what I would hope we would see as totally unacceptable infringements of civil liberties, or loading ISPs up with absurd responsibilities for what their customers do, thus driving up the cost of our internet use. The music industry has already thought about the second alternative, and those interested in free speech should be watching the case of the Australian Recording Industry Association v Cooper.
In this action ARIA is suing the directors amongst others of an ISP because it provided an account to a man who downloaded pirated music. Their rationale is that apparently up to 20% of total Internet bandwidth is absorbed by downloads of pirated music, therefore the ISP business model is predicated on allowing pirates to do this. You might as well sue Xerox because a substantial proportion of photocopying is in breach of copyright, or Sony because people use VCRs to record videos. In fact, someone tried the latter a couple of decades ago and lost. Hopefully the same will happen here too.
Much of the moaning of the film industry has been carried by the broadcast media, particularly the ABC. Now a funny thing is happening to broadcast and it is called convergence. When researching this piece I wanted to listen again to a couple of radio broadcasts. You can listen to them too by clicking here or .hereSo can people in Iceland. If you wall the world off from Australia as some of these people seem to be suggesting you also wall Australia off from the world. At the moment for example Phillip Adams, one of the proponents of this idea, has a nice little export market ’netcasting Late Night Live internationally to people who have yet to go to bed. If we follow his prescription for the Internet and he’ll be restricted to a domestic audience.
On Line Opinion also has an international following and it is one way for our public intellectuals to get involved with the world. Under the film industry prescription this would be no more.
Instead of worrying about the new world Australians need to be out there exploiting it. Some of us are and are even starting to make a living out of it. Unfortunately the film industry isn’t. One of the reasons that Australian product sits in our video shop is because it doesn’t meet the needs of our customers. What’s the point of rules favouring an “Australian” film industry if that industry can’t even make films that Australians want to watch? Get out of the way guys. There are plenty of other types of content and some of us who are manufacturing it are coming through.

Posted by Graham at 6:37 pm | Comments Off on Drag out and knock down the Drama Queens – Internet Content Providers are coming through |
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