Film & TV

Jun 19, 2014

Razer’s Class Warfare: Murdoch’s capitalist failure drives us to download

Let's really put an end to the age of entitlement and make media barons accountable for their business failures, rather than legislating their right to steal our right to choice.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

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.

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9 thoughts on “Razer’s Class Warfare: Murdoch’s capitalist failure drives us to download

  1. Simon

    The copyright cartel has had a major win in successfully framing file sharing as “theft”, and in turn pushing their whole debate around the common theme that “stealing is wrong”.

    Duplicating a pile of 1’s and 0’s does not deprive anybody of the original content, and equally important is that a copy of a file does not equate to a lost sale.

    Many studies are actually showing that the biggest consumers of illegal media are also the biggest purchasers of legal media.

    Ultimately this seems to show people are more than happy to pay for content they enjoy – but there’s so much rubbish out there that they want to sample it first.

    If file sharing was actually “stealing”, then file-sharers could no doubt be prosecuted under existing theft law.

    As has been pointed out numerous times, the copyright industry – with the US government firmly on their side – is merely lobbying to strengthen their archaic business model through increased lengths of copyright protection and criminalising file-sharing.

  2. wahoo

    While sharing a movie or music file may infringe copyright it is not theft and I find it impossible to take seriously anyone who describes it this way.

    I’m still hoping sooner or later the copyright holders will wake up to the fact that piracy is as much about convenience and price as anything else and develop business models accordingly.

    Charging Australians a fair price for legitimate music and movie downloads and releasing them within a reasonable timeframe would be a significant step in combating piracy.

  3. Stuart Coyle

    Yes, the internet killed the radio star. Unless, like Helen, they moved with the times.

    Home taping killed music. That’s why no popular music has been made
    since the 1980s.

    The Xerox machine killed the publishing and printing of books.

    Before that the printing press destroyed the lives of scribes. We will never see another
    Shakespeare, Euclid or Aristotle because of it.

    My point is that copyright protectionism is purely about protecting old business models, not supporting thriving new industries and ways of doing things. In any case the methods
    of copying the ‘intellectual property’ never caused it’s demise, it just morphed to a different medium. The medium is not the message.

  4. Djbekka

    Way to go, Helen. There has been far too much crap written about the circumventing copyright and not enough about the way publishers live in the past (which was not that great for the rest of us, but we could share our books and borrow from friends) and the pandering to monopolists by legislators harping on about individuals and morality. Great column.

  5. Peter Evans

    Reiterating, torrenting (etc) is not theft of property. It is violation of copyright. That’s an important difference (no one is being deprived of the goods because they are infinitely copyable), and calling it theft is playing into the hands of the copyright mafia. The “free market” has a big problem when it runs up against Government protected monopolistic rights (trademarks, patents, and copyright) and I’m not aware of any successful melding of the two – only going to reveal yet another contradiction in capitalism etc.

  6. Draco Houston

    liberals seem to read more rand than smith these days, sadly. its funny watching capitalism’s staunchest defenders be eaten by the free market, at least.

  7. AR

    If the Rabid Rite & wannabe autocrats really knew their Adam Smith, they’d know that he wrote “ of similar business seldom meet, even for pleasure, but that a conspiracy against the customer arises”.

  8. Rhod Gates

    I’m not claiming to have created what I download. I don’t dispute ‘copyright’ of anyone. How dare anyone suggest such a thing?

    What next, a private matter is made public and the initiator complains ‘breach of privacy’? Oh come ON!

  9. Helen Razer

    @Peter Evans. I know. I agree. There is a good financial case to be made, and Bernard makes it well often, that this practice does not impede business.
    I would say, though, that I am unsure of the value of arguing that it is not theft. Sure, I am not stealing an object. But what I may be said to be doing is misusing rights. It’s like sitting in an empty movie theatre seat. And as has been demonstrated in a number of surveys, the people likely to occupy these empty seats are very often the people likely to pay for movie seats more often.
    There are a number of ethical arguments about the wrongness of copyright laws whose basis was formed in antiquity but I just don’t see the point at a time of debate in arguing along these lines. I would rather restate the extraordinary gift the government would be giving to an industry too lazy to work out its own security and marketing strategy. It strikes me that offering a hand-out to movie distributors (and we are talking about distributors here; not content creators) simply because they haven’t been arsed to work out a consumer-friendly, social and secure solution, say like the games industry have done with Stream, that legislation should be passed and enforced to protect themselves from their own inability to spend or make money properly.
    It’s a bit like David Jones saying that because they can’t be bothered realistically pricing, opening shops in convenient locations, developing an insurance plan or developing security tags for goods they want to government to pass a law that will protect them. And, they want other stores to bear the cost and effort of this mandatory surveillance.
    I really appreciate your radical view and I also think copyright requires reform at the most fundamental level. But when we are so close to legislation that will imperil a range of other rights, I think it is good to argue in the terms of a government that claims to champion business competition.

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