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TV networks to take legal action against ISPs? Yeah Right

By Patrick Pilcher, 07 Apr 2015
FYI, this story is more than a year old

It never ceases to amaze me just how often history has a habit of repeating. Several TV broadcasters are going to take legal action against ISPs bundling a global mode offering. This is going to happen even though doing so isn’t going to achieve anything.

It isn’t hard to see both sides of the argument. That said, the metaphorical stable doors are swinging open in the breeze and the horse has long since left the building.

To mix metaphors even more, you could also argue that the online genie is out of the bottle and has no intention whatsoever of going back in.

The TV networks must be looking at the rise and rise of online with growing levels of angst. Back in the day viewers lacking other alternatives used to wait for TV shows to air.

Not anymore.

Nowadays a growing number of people are using services such as Hulu or the BBCs iPlayer to stream shows months before they air here.

Because of this, it is possible that advertising and viewer numbers are tanking. After all, Few people will watch a series they’ve already seen months earlier.

It isn't all that surprising that legal teams at New Zealand’s TV Networks and LightBox have written to ISPs offering global mode to tell them they’re breaching copyright.

So how robust their argument? A similar case happened in Australia. The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) filed a complaint against iiNet.

AFACT claimed iiNet authorised copyright infringement. Arguing that iiNet failed to prevent customers from downloading content with BitTorrent.

Their case fell flat. The judge ruled that iiNet was not responsible because they had no control over BitTorrent. Safe Harbour provisions applied meaning iiNet was not responsible for anything done by its users.

This time round things are a little different. The networks could argue that means of infringement (Global mode) under the direct control of ISPs who could turn it off. They could also argue this would prevent the streaming of content from offshore into New Zealand lounges.

Given the large amounts of cash the networks have paid for exclusive content rights it isn’t hard to see why they’re so pissed.

The reality is that the ISPs will be reluctant to engage in a protracted legal battle. They also won’t have the funds to fight four broadcasters and a telco with deep pockets.

The logical outcome is that the ISPs will pull global mode offerings from the market.

If this does come to pass it is probable that nothing will change. The networks' lawyers will pocket a sizeable pile of cash while consumers buy commercial VPNs or download.

Last time I checked there were a huge number of commercial VPN services available that allow Kiwi users spoof a US and/or UK IP address. So even if global mode offerings do get hobbled in New Zealand, many people who’d used global mode will just pay to use another VPN service.

The solution seems pretty obvious. Colour me crazy but the networks could focus less on desert kitchen island Batchelor survivor reality TV dross to air stuff people want to watch. SkyTV already do this with Soho channel and so far it appears to be working if Soho’s ratings are anything to go by.

So to recap: Most TV networks are losing money. They’re looking force ISPs to drop global mode. People who’d used global mode will find other alternatives and continue on as if nothing ever changed. TV networks will still continue to lose money.

If there’s one thing that highlighted by this crazy situation it is this:

Calling in lawyers to fix a legal and technological issue compounded by mismanagement won’t work.

Recent events have shown us that using lawyers to fight tech is a lot like pushing a large amount of brown stuff uphill using a small fork. Check out the attempts at shutting the PirateBay down. At least a dozen alternatives sprang up during the last failed attempt. Even clumsier still, were the attempts at blocking access to the Piratebay. They all completely failed.

If people want something enough, they’ll find ways of getting it. Technology moves many times faster than the law.

As a growing number of people become more tech savvy, obtaining access to offshore TV shows and movies is likely to become more commonplace. Until a workable legal alternative appears from the networks, there is a fair chance that they will continue to suffer.

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