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Sunday, 17 February 2008 12:57

Pirate Underbelly downloads go ballistic down under

Net-savvy Victorians denied the chance to watch Channel 9’s hit new show thanks to a court order preventing its broadcast in the state have rushed online to download it, with local police threatening to thunder down upon copyright infringers like a ton of bricks.

Underbelly is the story of the Melbourne gangland wars, but it’s also the story of a court ban causing a suppressed TV show to become much more popular in precisely the state it has been suppresed in.

The ban has taken place because there are still court battles surrounding the 10 year Melbourne underworld war, and the TV show purports to be an accurate representation of what transpired during that time.

This caused the Victorian Supreme Court to suppress the TV series from Victorian TV screens – and from Victorian Internet users from accessing online previews and story descriptions from the Underbelly website (although other parts of the site are still accessible), in the event jurors in any cases surrounding the events portrayed in the Unberbelly TV show are unduly influenced by the show.

Anyone in Victoria trying to access suppressed parts of the site sees the message: “This functionality is not available due to current legal restrictions”.

Nationwide TV viewer numbers for the show’s first episode were put over 1.3 million people, but given no-one in Victoria was able to watch the show on the free-to-air TV network, Channel 9, the numbers clearly weren’t as high as they would otherwise have been, especially at a time when Channel 9, previously Australia’s No.1 network for years, has lost the top spot to its hated competitor, Channel 7.

So, what have Victorian Interet users interested in the show done? They’ve gone onto Internet p2p sites to download it, of course, much to the chagrin of local police and copyright authorities, alongside Channel 9 themselves, who have promised to track down uploaders and downloaders to prosecute them.

This has sent fear into ‘cappers’, or people who record TV shows, delete the advertisements and often the end credits, and upload them to p2p file sharing networks for anyone to download, with a report from Channel 9’s own half-owned (with Microsoft) online portal Ninemsn detailing some of the fears of local TV show pirates, some of whom have gone quiet in the face of intense new scrutiny from local copyright authorities.

Please read onto page 2.

An article from the Australian IT quotes Channel 9 representative Arabella Gibson saying: "Any uploading of a Nine television program, including Underbelly, on the internet is an infringement of our copyright and the network opposes it. We take very seriously any order of the court, and we are fully complying with that order. We do not condone any other parties interfering with our rights and, if necessary, we will take legal action."

Channel 9 has decided to appeal the court suppression order, but with the wheels of justice often moving far more slowly than those involved in legal cases would like, it appears to be highly unlikely that Victorians will be able to watch the show on free-to-air TV anytime soon.

Of course this is highly ironic in the face of a large advertising campaign in Melbourne, with local trams plastered with advertisements for the locally unwatchable TV show.

So, any Victorians trying to illegally watch a show about Australia’s most famous crime families of recent times should watch out: the police are watching!



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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.




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