Despite illegally downloading 300 gigabytes of movies and TV episodes every month, Alex Mack* says he doesn’t even come close to being Australia’s most prolific infringer of copyright.
Downloading the equivalent of one high-definition episode of an hour-long drama every day, he stays up-to-date with TV shows that can’t be accessed affordably, such as Game of Thrones, as well as shows that won’t be released in Australia for a while, such as Penny Dreadful.
The 29-year-old Brisbane resident explained that he downloads Game of Thrones due to Foxtel locking up the exclusive rights in Australia, preventing people from legally buying the show from iTunes, soon after it airs in the US.
“I refuse to give money to Murdoch due to him locking up content with exclusive content deals therefore locking out any other method of viewing content,” Mack said.
His habit first started as a 13-year-old, exploring the internet via his dial-up connection and while he initially downloaded for the sake of it, for the past four years he said he only infringes copyright on shows that cannot be easily accessed through streaming options.
He would stop if rights’ holders provided the means to conveniently access shows and movies soon after they are first screened, such as Netflix (which isn’t available in Australia).
“Worldwide blackouts or release windows between different continents no longer make sense as the internet has made content global,” he said. “Why should we have to wait six months for a movie to come to Australia when they could release it on the internet at the exact same time? This would stop a lot of convenience-based infringers (myself).”
It was a similar story among the other six infringers contacted by Fairfax Media who, aged around 30, had their first taste of infringing in the late 90s and attest to illegally downloading hundreds of gigabytes of TV shows and movies every month.
However, they all believe that they were by no means the worst in the country. That honour, they said, goes to offenders amassing massive libraries of content, and those who are copying and distributing the content they download.
“True pirates, [distributors] and couriers, actually move more data than any home connection in Australia is capable of,” one internet user told Fairfax in an email. “They move more data then (sic) most universities or governments.”
They took offence to the term ‘pirate’, seeing themselves as ‘copyright infringers’. Some argued that copyright is infringed not when a show is downloaded, but rather when it is copied; while others said that somebody who downloads a film that is currently out at the movies (robbing cinema owners of revenue) could have a bigger impact than someone who downloads movies and shows that are already out of distribution or otherwise not available locally.
The term came to prominence earlier this month when Attorney-General George Brandis announced that Australia was the “worst offender of any country in the world when it comes to piracy” without defining whether this infringement occured online or via pirate DVDs, for example. In some countries, like the Philippines and Indonesia, illegal DVDs can be purchased freely on the streets.
Mr Brandis has flagged a series of measures to crack down on piracy, in a bid to protect the interests of rights holders, but hasn’t specified whether the “graduated response” measures – that will see internet service providers send infringement notices to offending customers – will include penalties and fines.
In 2007, NSW resident Hew Griffiths was extradited to the United States – a country he had never visited – for overseeing a software pirating group blamed for robbing US software makers of an estimated $US50 million in sales.
At the time NSW chief judge Peter Young said it was bizarre that “people are being extradited to the US to face criminal charges when they have never been to the US and the alleged act occurred wholly outside the US.”
* Alex Mack is not his real name.