Australian Media Corporation Demands Three Strikes Law

By Drew Wilson

Some media outlets are picking a fight with the Australian government thanks to proposed laws that would increase oversight in the media. The government’s move was triggered by the phone hacking scandal in Britain. While a lot of attention was focused on regulations, the debate has taken a bizarre twist in which media executives are calling for a three strikes law “similar” to France, New Zealand, and the US.

Could Australia be the next targeted country to face intense lobbying to implement a three strikes law? That appears to be a real possibility if the latest reports are any indication. The Financial Review is reporting that Foztel CEO Richard Freudenstein is demanding that the Australian government put in place a three strikes law that is “similar” to France, the US and New Zealand. From the report:

At the same time, however, Mr Freudenstein pointed to statistics indicating that while internet use had grown by a third over the past five years, television audiences were also growing by about 9 to 13 per cent over the same time period.

Mr Freudenstein said Australia needed to adopt a copyright regime similar to that implemented in the US, France and New Zealand, where internet service providers have agreed to passing on warning notices to internet users found to have illegally downloaded material.

The first New Zealand internet user was convicted under the country’s system in January, more than 18 months after the government passed legislation.

[…]

“The models are there, but Australia is lagging behind,” Mr Freudenstein said on Thursday.

Stephen Langford, chief executive of Foxtel streaming rival Quickflix, said he would support government intervention on online piracy.

“It ought to be attractive for the studios and tv networks globally to make their content available over our platform and ensure it gets in the hands of consumers legally in a timely fashion and therefore avoid piracy so I think a solution will come from both ends,” he said.

The call is particularly puzzling since all three countries have experienced fatal flaws in their implementation of a three strikes law. Most recently, French authorities found themselves scrambling to try and make the French three strikes model work with calls of mass Internet censorship and the cutting of revenue streams from websites they don’t like. The move appeared to follow revelations that the three strikes law failed to stop the slide in music sales.

Meanwhile, the US version of this policy – sometimes called the six strike policy since it wasn’t technically a law that put the system in place – raised numerous security concerns thanks partly due to a particularly poorly conceived method of delivering the alerts.

New Zealand’s version of the three strikes law suffered critical blows as well when it was revealed that the record labels spent $250,000 only to collect just over $600 in fines.

The call for a three strikes law may, however, simply be a side-show given that the main event seems to revolve around Rupert Murdoch corporations fighting against any form of regulation. From an earlier report:

Free-to-air TV networks are split over Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s desire to scrap the reach rule, which restricts television networks to 75 per cent of the population, while Mr Stokes’ Seven West Media, News and Fairfax Media oppose the new Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) having authority over the newspaper publishers’ self-regulatory body and media mergers.

Mr Stokes, chairman and controlling shareholder of Seven West Media, told government and opposition MPs on Wednesday that he does not support any part of the package, including a halving of licence fees that would save Seven, Ten Group and Nine an estimated $150 million a year.

Kim Williams, chief executive of News Corp’s local arm, threatened a High Court challenge if Parliament created a government-appointed regulator to rule on media mergers and oversee the Australian Press Council and other industry bodies.

He said the government had not discussed the plan with him. “Senator Conroy himself said yesterday that the issues are well known, his proposals have been debated and we all know where everyone stands. Bollocks. This is Soviet-style argument,” he said.

The Telegraph also offers an interesting insight into this law:

Stephen Conroy, the communications minister, said on Tuesday he supported a free press but “media organisations have obligations to the Australian public”.

“This includes obligations to fairness in reporting, as well as providing timely responses to complaints and criticism,” he said.

The changes were denounced by media companies, which said the government was trying to gag journalists.

It wouldn’t be the first time foreign corporations tried to implement a three strikes law in Australia. In a drawn out legal battle, iiNet squared off with Hollywood and, last year, won:

The thirty four studios had alleged that iiNet was responsible for the conduct of customers when illegally downloading movies or TV episodes over the Internet.

iiNet does not condone piracy, we just didn’t agree with the studios’ view that it was our job to do their police work. The strong High Court decision suggests that we were on very solid ground.

One of the rights holders’ demands was that we terminate customer connections. To us that was very odd. Our role is to connect customers to the Internet, to connect customers to each other. We’re not going to remove your Internet access without having some form of independent review or legal order from the court or a law enforcement body requiring us to do so.

While it is more than reasonable to assume that record labels and movie studios that originate from outside of Australia would want to try again to get Australia to implement a three strikes law, it remains to be seen whether or not this latest push would be the start of a new major push for Australia to implement such a law.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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