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I was interested to note that online piracy has become a diplomatic issue in Australia, with the recently appointed US ambassador quoted in the SMH. It seems that Game of Thrones has made itself as famous for the extent to which it has been illegally downloaded as for its racy take on the fantasy genre. Nowhere more avidly than in Australia, it seems – thus the ambassador’s concern.

While I’m not sure we’re quite at the stage of a diplomatic incident just yet, the US is known for pressuring other governments – Australia’s included – to beef up their intellectual property regimes in order to secure favourable trade terms. This is of potential concern for Australians, given that studio lobbyists seem to have an disproportionate influence on US lawmakers, resulting in over-enthusiastic regulatory attempts (SOPA being a good example of this, as discussed in an earlier post).

Meanwhile, later in the same article the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) alludes to surveys showing that people pirate content “because it was free”. While naturally cynical about such citation-free references, I also think this is an overly simplistic assessment.

A better explanation for the piratical proclivities of audiences can be found in the lack of widespread alternatives to the appointment-to-view model of traditional broadcast, especially in Australia. Afraid of cannibalising a business model that’s increasingly out of step with audiences, the studios are leaving money on the table by ignoring online distribution channels. Were online alternatives available that were easy to use and worked without fuss across the devices used by consumers, I believe people would pay (within reason) rather than tangle with torrenting, which as a consumer experience leaves much to be desired.

Of course content owners are entitled to make money – why else invest in making content? But there are limits to how long you can ignore your market’s needs and dictate how consumers use your product while still expecting to maintain revenue streams.

Unless you’re prepared to send in a gunboat.

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