Thursday, 04 February 2010 14:45

iiNet verdict: time for film industry to wake up

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While iiNet chief executive Michael Malone gets a good night's rest, probably the first such night he's had since the case filed by the film industry kicked off, it is time for the doyens of the film industry to reflect on what this verdict means for them.

In what is a quintessentially Australian verdict today, Federal Court Judge Dennis Cowdroy delivered a win for commonsense, by ruling that an ISP cannot be held responsible for what its users download. Much in the same way that a maker of blank DVDs cannot be held guilty if objectionable material is found on the media.

It is time for the industry to think whether it is worthwhile going after individuals who download copied films over the internet and trying to instill fear in people, or whether it should seriously consider coming into the 21st century and continue making money.

The tactic of using emotional terms like "pirate" and "theft" has not worked in the past and will be even less useful in the future.

Ever since the digitisation of content - music, text and media - began, it has been apparent to anyone with the intelligence quotient of the common cockroach that the profit margins common in the 70s and 80s could not be sustained and that owners of content would have to go with the trend of increasing volume sales if they ever wanted to maintain anything like the profits which they enjoyed during those halcyon days.

The music industry - EMI and Sony, to name just two with which I am familiar - tried its level best with all kinds of copyright schemes but they came to naught. A few Pyrrhic victories were recorded over individuals, mostly in the US, a country where the fear factor rules everyday life, but that did not yield the expected returns. All it resulted in was a terrible image for an industry which already was considered a cross between Rasputin and Dracula.

Yet, the more modern approach of try-before-you-buy and the sale of individual songs has resulted in the tills filling up. More than any other approach, Apple's iTunes store has returned some measure of sanity to the sale of music and shown that people are more than willing to pay what they consider a reasonable price for their music.

It has also driven home the fact that half-a-loaf is a vastly better option than no bread.

The film industry should sit back, contemplate the iiNet verdict - truly a case where a Goliath has been roundly slain by David - and realise that people, for the most part, do not want to buy grossly overpriced DVDs any more. They would much rather pay less for a good-quality download which they can then watch where they please - on their own PCs, on their DVD player in the living room or on their laptops/netbooks while travelling.

It is time for the film industry to contemplate whether a 20 percent return is better than no return at all. The days of the video library and the theatre are slowly coming to an end and the film industry had best realise it now and adapt or else wait for crisis time and act hastily.

They would only have themselves to blame if they wait for crisis point and then trot out trite excuses.

When a goodly percentage of the population has a widescreen TV in its living room, that percentage will think twice about purchasing overpriced tickets (and overpriced popcorn too) to watch a film that it can well enjoy on its own sofa. And the popcorn made at home tastes better too.

Films which one cannot enjoy fully without the benefits of 3D will continue to make money. The example of Avatar needs no elaboration.

If groups like the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft are really bothered about the employees of the Australian film industry, then it is time to think ahead and advise their masters in the industry that they should march along with technology. Else, they will be only hastening their own demise.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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