Piracy Vs Pay TV – Australia, are we really the Hackers of the World?

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The Headlines state that Australian’s are the biggest Video Pirates in the World. Is this fact or fiction? I take a look at the some of the facts, some of the fictions and why do we do it? Are there any alternatives?

I, like a lot of other Australians, love watching TV………..it’s been ranked as a national past time here, which is really quite strange, as we have the worlds most arguably, crappiest TV. We used to have only 5 channels until a few years back, when we were blessed with Digital TV, so now we just have more channels: of crap! So what do us poor Aussies do? We Download, stream, copy, burrow, beg, buy from overseas……….anything to get our favorite shows: when we want them. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying EVERY one does it, but apparently we do it a lot!

Unlike the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, France and many other comparable countries, Australia lacks any effective protection against online piracy. Australia, I’m sorry to say, is the worst offender of any country in the world when it comes to piracy, and I’m very concerned that the legitimate rights and interests of rights holders and content creators are being compromised by that activity.

Gizmodo

I am talking about Video Piracy here, not music piracy, I am sure a lot of the statistics may be similar and a lot of the reasons behind it a similar, but not all. So please let’s not split hairs I am only referring to Videos (Movies and TV Shows) from here on.

So Why do we do it? Who is to Blame?

So why do Australian’s love to download their Videos and TV Shows? There are many reasons why, but I think one of the biggest is the lack of options. We have really bad free to air TV currently available in Australia. Most Australians honestly believe that there is a conspiracy by the National broadcasters (ie Freeview), to make us all just a little bit cranky, by pushing all the wrong buttons! Here is a small sample:

  • The EPG on Freeview is frequently incorrect, so if recording your favorite TV show you miss the start or end.
  • They frequently change nights and or time slots, so again you miss recording your show.
  • They frequently throw in an old episode as New, wasting your time.
  • Supposed Live TV (the Voice, Big Brother etc) running late and stuffing up night-time TV viewing for other people and recordings
  • TV shows that air in other countries (USA) we have to wait weeks, if not months for. Sometimes it is Fast Tracked, and they randomly play shows out of order, or miss an episode entirely
  • There are so many great Movies and TV Shows that are NEVER aired in Australia
  • And please don’t get me started on the advertisements, I know everyone in the world has to deal with them, we just seem to have an abundance of the SAME few commercials airing, occasionally more than once in an Ad break!

Personally due the above list and many more reasons, I never watch Freeview live, I always record it, if I watch it at all. I am then frequently annoyed by missing my show, the start or end, finding it’s something I have already seen, or more often than not what I have streamed from USA is 2 years ahead of what’s on offer in Australia.

We have very limited options in Australia, yes granted Digital TV has made huge changes, we now have lots more channels, not just the 5 we used to have, but hey guess what…………..more re runs, old crappy shows no one wants, TV Shopping channels, or the same stuff aired on 3 different channels simultaneously. We do not have various cable companies to run to; like other countries. We are stuck with what is force fed us for free, or install expensive Satellite Installations. Yes there are thousands of Free Channels available on Satellite in Australia; but most of them are non English speaking, and it can also be quite expensive to set up for very little watchable TV. And don’t get me started on VAST, which is really just Freeview on Satellite, same crap – see bullet points above.

So that brings us to Subscription TV – Foxtel. Up until recently we have had little to no choice when it comes to Subscription services; there was Galaxy, Austar and Optus TV once upon a time, but they faded off into distant memory. Which pretty much left Foxtel to their own greedy corruption. Don’t get me wrong I used to have it at my house, it was great……….once upon a time. Then they started bringing in more advertisements, why do they require more money from advertisers when they already slug us a very hefty price per month? Then they cut back on quality TV shows, or made you pay extra for Box Office Movies and Really good Dramas etc. You can’t get the really good stuff on the basic packages. In essence they priced themselves out of the market, as far as my family is concerned.

We now have a few options for Video Streaming services like; Quickflix, Pronto, Fetch, Play and a few others, don’t get me wrong these seem really good deals with some good content, some are very reasonably priced too. Unfortunately Australia has the slowest, poorly covered internet in the world. So when we want to stream great TV, often we have to suffer buffering or lag, trust me it is very annoying. So we turn to Things like U-Torrent and Pirate Bay  (and 100 other sources) to download the content we want. Then once it has finally downloaded, we can watch it. I am not saying it’s right, I am not condoning it, I am just explaining the why.

There is another reason Aussie turn to the internet, DVD and BluRay Prices. Sure there is currently a bidding war going on, but we still pay more for our electronics, music and movies than anywhere else in the world. There are several arguments to this end. We earn more money per capita, so we can afford more; but we currently pay 400% more than UK or USA. Also our DVD/ BluRay prices are higher, we can buy overseas and import ourselves cheaper than we can buy the same thing locally, and we often do. So don’t give us the old Australia is too far away, it costs more to produce and send stuff to Australia than anywhere else. We Don’t believe it…………..we are lazy and earn more, so everyone wants to gouge us, maybe we earn more because everything is so expensive and our cost of living is higher………..it’s a Catch 22, but I’m not here to argue economics.

But are we as bad as the reports say? According to Lifehacker.com.au these statistics are skewed and biased; due to the time of day, country of origin, percentage of population and the size of audience it is not accurate; in fact most piracy is encrypted and done privately and would not be openly shared, which is where these figures came from; shared data. Is that not contra indicative to the way of Piracy works in general? So are they underestimating or over estimating the rates of Piracy? If only 25% of Australians are currently subscribed to Foxtel, and 11% are illegally downloading (apparently mostly from Melbourne according to Mumbrella), what is the rest of Australia doing?

Is this a Victim-less Crime?

So there really aren’t that many Aussies anyway; barely 23 million of us, and only 11% are illegally downloading, so who is it hurting? Isn’t this a victim less crime. I mean let’s look at it; the movie Elysium (released 2013) rated 4.8 million downloads (worldwide) which equates to US$36 million dollar loss in ticket sales. The Film’s budget was US$115 million, it still grossed US$286 million, according to figures reported on The Conversation. Does this make them Greedy Bastards? Apparently not. Once all the major players take their cut, there isn’t much left. Do we blame the actors? I wish I could get paid millions of dollars for a few months work, but lets face it, not all actors get that kind of money. So it’s the middle men who take it all?

According to the Oxford Economics Report, a third of all Australians are downloading, borrowing or buying illegally downloaded content. This according to Oxford Economics and their calculations, equates to the equivalent of 6,100 jobs lost per year.  That’ s AUD $1,370 million in Gross Sales lost across the entire Australian economy, Tax losses of AUD $193 million. That’s money the Australian Government could put to better use (Or maybe not? Again I’m not here to argue politics either). So what about the Australian Film Industry? We have made some amazing movies; Mad Max, Hanging Rock, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, need I go on? But seriously folks unless the damn thing is illegally downloaded a million times (and no I’m not exaggerating), no one has even heard of it. Most of the films don’t even make to the cinemas (which us Aussies love by the way!), so we burrow from friends, who got it from who knows where and says “Hey check out this Aussie movie, Mate, it’s bonza!” or they send you the link directly to it with same offering. The Australian Indie film industry (independent film makers) would largely remain unknown without Piracy, it means they are still broke, it means it is still illegal, but if we had access to quality TV maybe we could help this struggling part of the Aussie economy? And then when we do get a really good Aussie offering; Red Dog, Priscilla, Sapphires etc these Aussie film makers are bled dry by everyone in the industry and then the Free Loaders (or downloaders) get hold of it.

The Sapphires was the top grossing Australian film at the Australian box office in 2012, taking A$14.5 million. In October 2013, it was still attracting a lot of illegal downloads – 123,030 worldwide and 18,720 in the USA. That’s forgone revenue of just under A$1 million. – The Conversation

Will Data Retention or Website Blocking stop Piracy?

There has been a lot of talk recently about Data Retention by the Government in a bid to fight against terrorism, this data retention only tracks what websites you go to, not what you do once you get there. But wait, is there more? According to some sources information embedded within downloads can making ‘fishing expeditions’ easier to find various ISP (Who you have your internet with) that much easier to track and therefore track down the individuals doing the downloading. But will the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) get on board with that? Technically that is in preach of privacy laws and individual freedom rights, isn’t it? According to Sydney Morning Herald Report  the Abbott Government Crackdown is going to Force the ISP to work with them on cracking down on Downloaders;

The code must include a warning notice system in which repeat illicit downloaders are sent notices informing them they are infringing copyright. It will be educational rather than threatening in nature. – SMH

Wow now I’m quaking in my boots! A warning Letter!

The government has proposed making it possible for rights holders to seek a court order requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to block overseas-based websites – such as the Pirate Bay – whose dominant purpose is breaching copyright. – SMH

According to Choice this is tad amount to Internet Filters, according to others (Swinbourne Uni) Blocking Websites does nothing, and is a ‘Technical Nightmare’ as it Blocks the ISP rather than just the individual website, the innocent bystanders stuck on the same ISP which is blocked lose out, and they have done nothing wrong in the first place. And in the event the Government can block individual website (I don’t think they are that smart personally), these guys from the likes of PirateBay etc aren’t dumb and can just ‘move’ or rename themselves anyway. There fore getting around the ‘Blocking’.

So WHAT is the alternative?

So if only 25% of Aussie have Foxtel and 11% are downloading, what is the rest of Australia doing? There are a lot of us, rumored to be as high as 35%, trying to play Devil’s  Advocate (well sort of ),  we are running Virtual Private Networks (VPN), or Domain Name Systems (DNS), and run subscriptions services from overseas, predominantly from USA, it sounds complicated but it is not. We Hire a VPN and access Catch Up TV, Movies and TV Shows from the likes of Netflix and Hulu+, and hopefully in 2015 we can also get HBO Go! So we still pay our subscription services, we do not illegally download, we still pay our royalties to the makers of these programs, we just are not paying the ridiculous Australian prices. Some people still claim we are routing the system and doing things illegally; not so says Choice Magazine and even the Attorney General!  There are a lot of options for doing this, check out Getflix and you are not restricted to a computer screen like normal CatchUp TV, which lets face it doesn’t even work properly on Smart TVs! The difference with all this is These subscription services are adaptive, so if you have poor internet they run at a lower quality, or higher quality for faster connection etc. There is also programs like XBMC which can run various different streaming sites for Movies and TV Shows. There is also sites on the internet, YouTube with movies and shows readily available, Aussies will happily pay for Internet TV on the TV, not just Smart TVs that aren’t that Smart! There are Rock-Boxes, Roku Boxes, Ouya Boxes and so many other options out there, some of which are NOT available in Australia, every time we turn around we get snubbed. And they call us ‘The Lucky Country’? yeah right.

I guess the next big problem is the Internet. The Abbott Government axed the NBN Co. roll out that WAS planned across Australia, for a cheaper, quicker alternative, using the current Copper Wire Network. Really? Have you seen the state of the current Copper network? The pit located closest to our house is frequently filled with water when it rains (hopefully it’s not one of those of Telstra Asbestos lined pits – but that’s another story), the copper cables are damaged and every time that it does rain we lose our phone line and ADSL2 (Internet) line as well, for days. So we switched back to Cable hook up for our Internet, still loose the phone when it rains, but 14 years of complaining has not got it fixed yet, so I don’t see it happening any time soon, and this isn’t just my house, it’s the neighbors as well! And please don’t think we are the only poor bastards in Australia who suffer from damaged copper wires and rain-soaked pits! So thanks Mr. Abbott for ruining the NBN, we always knew it was a pipe dream! Quick, cheap, reliable internet in Australia – well I guess we can keep dreaming and hoping! And they call us ‘The Lucky Country’? yeah right.

Conclusion

The stupid things is YES – Aussie’s are lazy, cheap but lazy, but If, we were given access to cheap or even fair priced content on a good internet, at the same time as the rest of the world, we would more than likely happily pay! According to Choice. I know I am happy to pay my less than $20.00 per month for unlimited LEGAL entertainment, If we all had really good cheap internet, it would be even better. In fact with the announcement of Netflix, coming in 2015 we all say hooray! But wait there is more there too, Netflix can only show programs that Foxtel don’t already have the rights too, so there will be stuff Netflix can’t show here in Australia, that they do in USA, so I will probably keep my account. Add to that HBO Go going from Cable only to Internet Streaming opens more doors too. At least all this has forced Foxtel to lower their ridiculous pricing!

So until things radically change in Australia, I am sorry but I will continue to pay for my overseas subscriptions services at a vastly reduced amount, Foxtel can forget it and Freeview; well it might be Free, but there is nothing worth watching to View!

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