There’s a reason that iiNet is my ISP. Well, if we include the mulish refusal of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to deliver infrastructure that would cut future national maintenance costs and develop future national business profits, there are two. Without a national broadband network to choose, I support a provider that future-proofs me against stupid rule, even if it is powerless to future-proof the backbone a stupid rule would govern.
From 2008, the provider fought famously against Hollywood lobby group the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT). AFACT claimed iiNet “had ignored requests from the companies to discipline its customers for breaking copyright laws.” The ISP countered that it could not tut-tut or disconnect a customer’s service based on a presumption of data misuse it was neither obliged nor equipped to investigate. In 2010, a Federal Court found in favour of iiNet and awarded the legal costs I had been happy to do my part to bear. In 2012, the High Court upheld the precedential judgment, whose implications extend to the function of the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement or, as I saw it, rather generally to just how much an ISP can dob me in to the seppos.
This dispute was never, and is not this week as it resurfaces, about my right to steal something I could not afford. Stealing is wrong, although bound to become more common under a Hockey budget and a Murdoch monopoly. As Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer show us in yesterday’s Crikey, theft is also the inevitable outcome of a market that once offered goods at reasonable cost with an on-demand model (iTunes) and now refuses their lawful purchase unless it is at unreasonable cost through a top-down box (Foxtel).
No one, save for idiots rounded up by 7.30, is arguing that it’s right to steal because, hey, those guys who make movies have loads of sweet, sweet cash. This is not an argument about my “right” to steal. Rather, it is an argument about my right not to be stolen from. The theft of my right to privacy by government and industry is one matter, and it is perhaps more ably left to Keane. The theft of my right to choice is another, and it should really be fought by classical liberals.
We could say that Attorney-General George Brandis and Turnbull’s proposed legal crackdown on copyright is a theft of their own principles. The Coalition is stealing its own foundational belief that the market will find its own level. Someone should call Adam Smith.
Let’s look at this problem in these liberal terms, in the terms of a government legislating its way to the theft of its own dearly held competitive principles. Let’s leave aside a Marxist analysis of this debate, which would hold that consumers, or the digital proletariat, are too powerless to be blamed for the failings of a market. Although there is a good case to be made, and yesterday’s piece in Crikey makes it, that Murdoch is just an idle ruling class twit who can’t be bothered strategising his way out of failure, we won’t make it here.
Murdoch, who is not too big to fail, does not deserve legal considerations to preserve his profit. He just needs to be a better capitalist. In fact, what he needs is an end to an age of entitlement. As Treasurer Joe Hockey will remind you, welfare and special kindness do nothing but quench the natural thirst of a competitive market on whose sap we all depend for growth. If we give people handouts, they will not acquire the skills to prosper and the companies they helm will wither taking human progress with them.
Let’s think for a moment of the brave and upwardly mobile souls of the gaming and software industries. They have never profited from laws that would challenge the foundations of the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act (TIA) and have always assumed responsibility for protecting their own risk. They do not pass the cost of business risk on to others. They accept occasional theft as a fact of business life and have evolved market and security strategies to deal with the rot of bad apples that mark healthy exchange. Like retailers, logistics providers, property developers, manufacturers and any industry in the great history of Australian capitalism that has only ever been hampered by namby-pamby statist protectionism, they have employed their own uniformed guards against failure and have been the better for it.
A market failure is a chance for market remediation! Now is the time to detonate our MBAs. Distributors of video should see this crisis not as reason to seek the short-term shelter of legal welfare but an opportunity to strengthen not only themselves but the market. Creative prospects for business abound and the truly optimistic capitalist will see how insurance providers, security specialists and others can benefit from the proactive safeguarding of distribution.
To expect the government to step in where market ingenuity should and to demand protection afforded to no other industry is exactly the kind of attitude that will make this country weak. To pass on the responsibility for store surveillance to the government and the cost expense of surveillance to the ISP is the act of weakling who refuses to pull itself up by its own bootstraps. Those poor little ISPs should not have to bear the cost of specific data surveillance requests. What do you want to do, kill competition with your Keynesian controls?
I for one demand that the age of entitlement is ended and that Australians, and former Australians like Rupert, learn to stand on their own two feet. Crikey is not asking for subsidy to keep its paywall strong. We are better citizens for that.
Helen Razer is a writer whose work appears in The Saturday Paper, Daily Review, SBS Online, The Big Issue, and Frankie. She has previously worked as a columnist for The Age and The Australian and as a broadcaster for ABC radio.