The Australian Government is considering introducing two far-reaching policies aimed at reducing online piracy such as illegal downloading of movies and music from torrent and other P2P websites. 

These proposed policies are the so-called "three-strikes" scheme and an internet piracy filter.

What is the three-strikes rule?

Under three-strikes policies, also known as graduated response schemes, consumers receive up to two warnings for alleged infringements of copyright law concerning illegal downloading, before being penalised on their third strike. Penalties can include fines, reduced bandwidth and even having their internet access terminated.

The problem with the policy

Three-strikes policies have failed almost everywhere they've been introduced and they don't address the root cause of online piracy. Such schemes run in countries like France, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, the UK, Ireland and the US (which actually has five strikes), and have proven ineffective at reducing piracy. They're also incredibly costly for consumers, ISPs and taxpayers, and on the whole unnecessarily bureaucratic.

France's three-strikes scheme resulted in just four prosecutions and three actual convictions in its first three years of operation, despite millions of allegations of infringement. These schemes can also lack due process and proper judicial oversight, which puts consumers' rights at risk. Under the New Zealand scheme, copyright holders don't even have to provide evidence for their allegations of infringement.

Filtering the internet

In addition to three-strikes, Attorney-General George Brandis is hinting at introducing an internet filter. This would mean the Federal Court would have the authority to compel ISPs to take down sites hosting infringing content.

Internet filters are riddled with technical problems. They can be easy to bypass, both by users and the sites themselves, and they can also be applied incorrectly. This can result in legitimate sites being taken down, which happened last year when ASIC attempted to target sites giving fraudulent financial information and inadvertently took down around 250,000 legitimate sites.

Causes of internet piracy

CHOICE believes the best way to address online piracy is to improve the availability of legitimate content, so that consumers can access it when they want to, in the format they want, and at a fair price.

Australian consumers pay more money for less content, which they receive later than consumers in other areas like the US and Europe. If Australian consumers could get timely and affordable access to the content they want, they would be less inclined to download media illegally.

It's time for the content industry to take some responsibility for their part in the market failure that is the main driving factor behind online piracy. There's no point forcing costly and drastic policies onto consumers and ISPs without addressing the root causes of internet piracy.