Roy Billing takes another stand against online piracy

ryb1Cliffy actor Roy Billing has written to News Limited in response to an article by columnist Alice Clarke on piracy that argued, “To beat a pirate, one must think like a pirate” (May 9).

He wrote in part:

The film industry fully recognises that copyright piracy is a complex problem with no one solution. I agree that, as Ms Clarke wrote, “pulling a Metallica and abusing everyone while suing them” isn’t the answer, and that’s why the local film industry has never pursued that route.

My understanding of copyright comes down to it essentially being the freedom to choose. If you create something or own the copyright in a film or TV show, you have the freedom to choose how you want to screen that content and whether you want to monetise it or give it away.

But some people have not come to terms with the idea that intellectual property is applied to all forms of creative works – from writing, to graphic design, pharmaceuticals, music and film-making. It would appear that a percentage of people (albeit small) expect that everything should be free online. That is totally at odds with offline values, behaviours and norms. Contrary to the tired yet convenient excuse, when generally law-abiding citizens access content illegally online, it’s not simply a question of availability.

It is true that not all popular TV shows screen at the same time as the US, but relying on those that don’t as a justification for copyright piracy is not a credible argument – it is merely a convenient excuse.

He goes on to write about much more that you can read here.

As a jobbing actor in this country Billing makes some very valid points, just as he did in 2010 when he wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald on the very same subject.

Back then Nine was offering Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities , in which he appeared, via its Catch-Up site. Astoundingly, it even said “You can also copy and share each episode or even distribute the files via file-sharing applications, such as Bit Torrent.”

I doubt anybody remembers that pearler, let alone be willing to endorse it in 2013. How times have changed.

What should also be remembered (and isn’t referenced in Billing’s latest letter) is that in October 2012 an ACMA report found  a high level of willingness by survey respondents to pay for online video. Half of those intending to access an online video service in the following six months indicated they were prepared to pay for it.

The music industry faced similar piracy threats over a decade ago when Napster was prevalent and eventually arrived with the iTunes model. We have AppleTV but there are still limits about buying titles in Australia that are freely accessible in the US because they haven’t aired here yet. And the way some networks juggle their content some of them never will.

The Netflix model of releasing full series of content to consumers for binge-viewing is the next wave of entertainment. I was reading yesterday that Arrested Development had already been pirated more than 100,000 times in 24 hours (well behind Game of Thrones season premiere downloaded 1 million times two months ago).

I concur that copyright material should be paid for to reward the artists who produce it and whose livelihood depends upon monetising it. Central to this is access, a sensible price and not holding back the content at a speed slower than Cliffy shuffling down the inter-highway.


  1. TasTVcameraman

    @JB Agree wholeheartedly. If the shows were available here I would buy if , if available to stream legally I would buy it. As it is I buy DVD’s from the UK and USA.
    I have always said that with CD’s and DVD’s if they made them at a realistic price say $10.00 they would stamp out a lot of piracy. And I mean new releases at that price for a movie a TV show a bit more but for goodness sake release them after their TV run, or in the case of White Collar after it finishes it run in the USA , as we have seen series 4 finish in the USA, and no sign of it here. Maybe as “Pertinax” said the Network does not want to pay for series 4.

  2. @Pertinax networks hold back content (wasn’t necessarily talking about Arrested Development). Someone mentioned in another thread all the shows that aren’t on air here that networks have shown half a season. OUAT, White Collar for example.
    With AD, no network has the rights, there’s no site like Netflix that can offer it, and iTunes can’t sell it.

    I think networks in this country indirectly encourage people to download just so they can whinge about it. If they wanted people to watch their shows they would fast track and start and finish shows on time, and play the whole season.

  3. @Stan- sorry, but how is it ridiculous logic? I’m asking for people to upgrade their thinking for today’s market. How is that ridiculous? You cannot apply these old fashioned beliefs for contemporary times. There’s a reason this is happening and sticking your head in the sand and screaming “thief!” isn’t going to stop people from doing it. Nor is prosecuting people, they’ll always find a way to circumvent. By providing content as soon as possible and in a medium that people want, pirating will decrease.
    As for physical products, yes, I do apply such logic to it. If I can’t get a product here I’ll go online and order it from overseas. That’s what’s so great about the internet. If such logic was applied to TV, many people would choose the legal route. It’s not about freeloading, it’s about people wanting content as soon as possible.

  4. Mark LG, ABC only did that with Dr Who because they know most of their viewers are massive thieves. You’ll notice that the vast majorty of their overseas programming is still “slow-tracked.” Illegal downloading is not “free marketing,” it is freeloading. YouTube clips aren’t the same as Torrentting so that’s a bad example.

    Qubec, would you apply that ridiculous logic to physical products? Of course not. You & others are only doing it because you can get away with it.

    Jezza, you’re right. The industry isn’t going to achieve much by making thieves feel bad about it. That’s why governments need to start acting & sending people to jail. That’s a real message.

    Vitieddie, the only immoral, illegal & unethical behaviour isn’t coming from the companies that you all need to entertain you, it’s the pirates!

    PJs Ronin, the big difference there is people actually paid for their automobiles & horse/buggies. These days we’re talking international theft never before seen on this scale.

  5. @Dave
    Foxtel’s is a cable company that runs a cable network and charges for monthly access.

    iTunes sells stuff by the episode and series online. Or you can wait for the DVDs. Of course due to higher costs in Australia, a small market and lack of competition the price will be higher than in the US.

  6. @JB
    Australian networks are not holding back Arrested Development, they just haven’t bought it yet. They are under no obligation to buy something.

    If they haven’t bought Arrested Development it will be because Netflix has either not offered to sell it for broadcast or is asking too high a price. When AD is available at a price that makes it economical to broadcast Foxtel will buy it.

  7. The internet (and pirate downloading) is going to do to copywrite what the automobile did to the horse and buggy. RIA/TV content providers/ et al still haven’t come to grips with the tsunami that cometh. And the FTA networks?… well, atm they’re trying to push some of that equine byproduct up a geographic incline.

  8. I’d be more than happy to pay for a Foxtel original program on a show by show basis or the series. I don’t want to pay for a whole subsciption to Foxtel if I only want to watch one program from it. In this day and age of downloading this can be achieved. Why don’t they do this?

  9. Um what about the prices that overseas companies charge for their content … this has been highlighted in the news previously … surely there is something immoral/illegal/unethical about that …

  10. What Quebec said. It’s not as easy as saying the artists should be able to choose, because i’m sure the creators of Arrested Development would have loved it if Australia got it straight away. But here we have networks who hold back content and use ratings as their own convenient excuse.
    Fans have been waiting 8 years for AD, yet no tv release, no website to make it available, not even iTunes.
    ABC got it right when they put Dr Who online immediately, then showed it on ABC later.Then it was available on iTunes too. It really is that simple.

  11. youre not going to stop online piracy by making the “pirates” feel bad about it. Paid for online content, as well as catch up sites, are usually more reliable and easier to find.
    The problem arises when they arent available. Seriously, a person is not going to wait months for a movie or tv show just because its not convenient for the network to show it at the moment

  12. The problem is, the people in charge of content are acting and making decisions for the people who want this content and are doing so with values and systems that were relevant years ago but aren’t in today’s world. They need to upgrade their thinking for today’s world and stop trying to apply real world techniques to the online world. They’re two different things and should be treated as such.
    Why should I be restricted from content, content that everyone all around the world is talking about, simply because I live in Australia? Why should I have to be spoiled time and time again about character deaths or shocking twists, simply because I live in Australia? Times have changed and these old fashion views need to be updated with it. In this day and age you can’t withhold content from viewers and then complain when they illegally download it. The industry seems to do more whining about piracy than actually addressing the issue. Do so properly and the issue will decrease.

  13. The answer to this is simple, release it globally at the same time, or do what the ABC did last year with Doctor Who and release it as soon as the broadcast is over on iView. Enough of these geo restrictions, especially in today’s world.

    Living in a fast pace world, people while wanting to be legit in how they access content, by not releasing it as soon as possible from original broadcast, then you are just asking for people to download it sooner. In Roy’s time there was the VCR, then the DVD-R came along, and now we’re heading into the online world (whether people are ready for it or not – just look at the decisions being made by the gaming industry, both independent and the corporations eg: EA), while breezing along the Blu Ray / digital TV path for those without an internet connection or sufficient connection.

    I know that there will still be people who’ll download it and/or record it and then upload it elsewhere, but as far as I’m concerned I see that as free marketing so for those who do enjoy it enough to buy the content will. For me personally, I’ve brought several games and TV shows simply by clips and episodes that people have uploaded onto sites like You Tube for example. The content impressed me enough to get my wallet out and pay for it.

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