Crikey: The inflated cost of illegally copied DVDs

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[This article was first published in Crikey on Monday. I’ve also added the comment and additional material which were published yesterday.]

Hurrah! The War on Terror is over! Well, at least it seems we’re no longer afraid of terrorists, because when Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus warned that illegally copying DVDs costs the industry $1.7 billion, for a change terrorism didn’t get a mention.

Major distributors have been trying to scare us off illegal copying for years. Australia’s laws were “harmonised” under the US Free Trade Agreement so copyright infringement became a crime. Gloomy doom-music-laden messages play before every movie. Serious people tell us that “piracy funds terrorism”.

“The Abu Sayyaf — blamed for the worst terrorist attacks in the South-East Asian country — are likely behind the illegal copying of movies onto DVDs,” reckons Edu Manzano, chairman of the Philippines’ Optical Media Board.

“The Yakuza are behind them in Japan and the Hezbollah are involved in the Middle East,” though he admits they lack “documentary evidence”.

Bob Debus’ weekend media release omits the “piracy funds terrorism” trope, saying instead that it funds “a range of criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering”. (Hang on, isn’t money laundering self-funding?) But by the time the story hit the ABC the government’s current bogeyman had been added to the list: child pornography. Ooh err.

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Links for 04 November 2008 through 09 November 2008

Stilgherrian’s links for 04 November 2008 through 09 November 2008, gathered via Twitter and spat onto the page with love and some lemon juice and garlic:

The argument is simple, Senator Conroy

Photograph of Senator Stephen Conroy labelled Cnut of the Week

For the second week in a row, the Stilgherrian Live audience voted Senator Stephen Conroy our “Cnut of the Week” for his persistence with and behaviour over the Australian government’s Internet censorship “plans”. The program is now online for your viewing pleasure.

OK, that’s a biased sample, sure. But as I wrote in Crikey yesterday, Conroy is thoroughly tangled in his own Rabbit-Proof Firewall. I’ll try to sneak that article out from behind the paywall later. However in summary Conroy is blustering, maligning his critics with the McCarthyist tactic of bullying and calling them child pornographers and generally ignoring the rational questions being put to him.

He’s also back-pedalling fast. On ABC Radio National’s The Media Report yesterday, he was even denying the policy was about censoring legal material at all, despite clear evidence for exactly the opposite.

Not good enough, Senator Conroy.

If the government wants to persist with comprehensive, centralised, secretive, unaccountable Internet censorship — let’s not use the spin-words “filtering” and “clean feed” because that just reinforces their moral-panic frame of the Internet being “dirty” — then they need to deploy this evidence-based policy-making they used to talk about and actually address the evidence.

Mark Newton, the network engineer Conroy’s office tried to bully into silence, has only become more vocal in his criticism. And at Online Opinion yesterday he puts his case more clearly than ever.

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Just being nude doesn’t make it porn, you sickos!

A portion of a Bill Henson nude photograph of young womanMaybe I’m jumping the gun here, because the actual recommendations aren’t online yet. But news today that the Bill Henson “scandal” has prompted an overhaul of NSW art laws really gets up my nose.

Australian photographer Bill Henson is no stranger to controversy. His images, like the one here, are of nude or semi-nude adolescents, and “protecting the innocent children from the evil pedophiles” is a powerful rallying-call. Newspaper columnists and talkback radio hosts alike revel in its ability to stir the emotions — attention-seeking pricks that they are.

In an incident earlier this year, some of Henson’s photographs were seized by the police — but returned once the Office of Film and Literature Classification found that none of them were “child pornography”. Indeed, it called their nudity “mild and justified” and gave them a PG rating.

Got that? PG. Suitable for viewing by children under the age of 16, with parental guidance.

But apparently the considered judgement of the official body charged with this kind of analysis — the people who deal with and (sometimes) ban material which is pornographic — isn’t good enough.

Continue reading “Just being nude doesn’t make it porn, you sickos!”

Completely inappropriate, Senator Conroy

Photograph of Senator Stephen Conroy labelled Cnut of the Week

Last night‘s Stilgherrian Live viewers voted Senator Stephen Conroy (pictured) “Cnut of the Week” by the clearest margin ever. But the actions of his office reported this morning really take the biscuit.

As Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy has been spokesman for the ALP’s policy of ISP-level filtering of the Internet. I’ve written about this before, but it’s back in the news this week because it was discussed in Senate Estimates, as Michael Meloni reports.

Conroy, as in December, was accusing critics of the policy like Greens Senator Scott Ludlam of supporting child pornography — a cheap rhetorical trick at the best of times.

This morning, though, news broke that Conroy’s office had tried bullying other critics.

Internode’s Mark Newton was highly critical of the filtering plan and Conroy’s evidence, but he was speaking as a private citizen. It was totally inappropriate for Conroy’s policy advisor Belinda Dennett to attempt to pressure him via Internet Industry Association board members and his employer.

Last year, Senator Conroy agreed with his Coalition predecessor, Senator Helen Coonan, when she said you get into trouble when politicians start picking technologies. Problem is, the ALP’s “cyber-safety” policy specifies “ISP filters that block prohibited content”. Conroy’s stuck with it. But the filters clearly don’t work. And he can’t be seen to back away from Internet filtering — in a trial program which, ironically, was scheduled by his predecessor — because the ALP needs the votes of Family First Senator Steve Fielding and independent Senator Nick Xenophon for other things.

Poor bloke. What is he to do?

Budget explains Internet censorship plan, a bit

The vagueness of the Labor government’s planned kid-friendly “clean feed” Internet become a tiny bit less vague last night. The Federal Budget dumped Howard’s NetAlert scheme and replaced it with a $125.8 million Cyber-safety Plan.

Budget Paper No. 2 says there’ll be “a range of initiatives to combat online threats and protect children from inappropriate material on the internet.” There will be ISP-level filtering of “an expanded Australian Communications and Media Authority blacklist” — which presumably means the already-illegal material such as child pornography — plus an “examination of options to allow families to exclude other unwanted content”.

To me, this implies that families will be in control of their Internet filtering, and it’ll be opt-in. As it should be. Presumably this will become clearer once the “options” are “examined”.

The plan includes other measures “such as”:

  • an education program for teachers and the community
  • a Youth Advisory Group to assist the Government to formulate age-appropriate measures to
    protect children
  • an expanded Consultative Working Group focussed on cyber-safety issues,
  • a dedicated website for children
  • research projects on cyber-safety issues

ISPs will get a one-off subsidy in 2009-10 to install the filters, with funding in following years only for new providers. The Australian Federal Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions continue to get their funding to combat child sexual exploitation. Again, as they should.