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Is there an unrealistic trend today where people expect things free through the internet? Or is there something fundamentally flawed with our information and entertainment business model, in this rapidly changing world?

The newspapers wish to introduce a fee for reading their publications on line at a time when internet users have an expectation that content should be free.

To some degree the same goes for movie and TV show downloads.

News Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch has announced the company will charge readers to access online content within a year, emphasising that, “Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting.”

Others argue that the quality of journalism leaves much to be desired.

ABC television’s Media Watch is arguably Australia’s main broadcast forum for media analysis and comment. The program claims an impressive record of exposing media misrepresentation, manipulation, plagiarism, abuse of power, technical lies and straight out fraud. Turning the spotlight on, “…those who literally ‘make the news': the reporters, editors, sub-editors, producers, camera operators, sound recordists and photographers who claim to deliver the world to our doorsteps, radios, computers and living rooms. We also keep an eye on those who try to manipulate the media: the PR consultants, spin-doctors, lobbyists and “news makers” who set the agenda.”

Meanwhile, the Studios have just lost a major movie piracy battle with internet service provider iiNet. They want iiNet held responsible for its customers downloading content illegally. However Federal Court judge Justice Dennis Cowdroy found iiNet was not responsible for the infringements of its users, claiming that the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) had mislead the court in regards to the number of infringing users, and, while iiNet users did infringe, this was not the responsibility of iiNet to deal with.

The finding stated that, “iiNet is not responsible if an iiNet user uses that system to bring about copyright infringement … the law recognises no positive obligation on any person to protect the copyright of another”.

iiNet was also found to have in place an anti piracy policy and while that was not up to the standards demanded of them by AFACT, it was considered acceptable to the court that iiNet did not authorise copyright infringing activities on their network.

Justice Cowdroy also found that iiNet cannot be held responsible for anything done by its users on the BitTorent network since iiNet does not have control over the network – it is merely a common carrier.

Justice Cowdroy found in favour of iiNet, dismissing the case with costs.

Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) speaking on behalf of Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Disney Enterprises, Inc, the Seven Network and others is expected to appeal the ruling in the High Court. The organisation has 21 days to appeal the judgement. However, they may lobby the government instead to have laws changed to get the outcome they desire.

It is believed that this will have substantial ramifications internationally in regards to dealing with copyright infringers on an ISP level.

The sentiments of internet users in the forums indicate that, “ISPs are not copyright police and should not have to do AFACT’s work for them. You would start seeing people sue Holden because they had a high speed crash and Holden built a car which allowed it and they did nothing to stop the person from speeding. It’s all the same, removing responsibility from the consumer which is just nonsense. It would also be like holding Telstra responsible for a crime plotted over the telephone, or the electricity company held liable if one of their customers uses electricity to grow a drug crop.”

Alternate solutions offered by internet users suggest, “…the film industry, make lower resolution downloads available ‘cheap’ and this might stop ‘some’ of the illegal downloads.” They also say that, “People want to watch films/TV shows now not in six months. If these companies offered easy legal means to get this stuff a lot of the problems would go away. Another annoying thing with online purchases is how the file is locked to the system you downloaded it to. What if your computer dies?”

Others consider the studios to be greedy and think that the future of the industry will involve more “independents” using todays technology to launch their own products – and that the days of sponging record and movie executives and “artists” who get to live the lifestyles of the rich and famous are numbered. Some think that ‘Stealing’ from the big companies isn’t stealing. It is simply a reclaiming some of the wealth they’ve sucked out of us over the years.

These sentiments are not restricted to movie and TV studios as one person considers that, “Despite claims that piracy is killing the industry, companies like Microsoft are recording record profits. They can’t or won’t explain this. If licensing and purchasing costs weren’t ridiculously exorbitant people would be happy to pay for them, but while they feel they are being ripped off they will do what they can to get a bit back.”

One radical statement: “Long live the pirates and down with the mega rich backward movie bosses who refuse to offer an alternative to their restrictive overpriced poor quality products.” Then an alternate viewpoint: “Would all those people ‘sharing’ music and movies like to give their services away for free? Or have goods stolen from their possession? Didn’t think so.” And… “This arrogant attitude that most people have that everything should be free (even when it costs $200m to produce) has to end!”

Perceptions vary greatly, but much of it has to do with what is considered a fair go for consumers and a fair return on big company investments.

A lot also has to do with suppliers meeting demands and whether each party is being realistic with their expectations.

Business models are being subject to new forces and lines of control have become blurred to the point that desperate measures are being taken for each to gain satisfaction. It might take a while for an equilibrium to be reached.

Meanwhile, new revenue streams will be pursued as old ones dry up, whilst new companies and products will appear, flourish and sometimes fade. One needs a crystal ball to predict the final outcome. Often the older ones that succeed have to keep reinventing themselves. For example, IBM, Apple and Walt Disney. Many of our media companies have changed hands, as have the movie studios. More so than ever before the information and entertainment world is in a state of flux.

Further reading:

AFACT v iiNet: The judgement in full

Legal experts expect appeal in iiNet judgement

iiNet wins! Film industry’s case torn to shreds

Telstra and the Government ponder iiNet victory

Conroy slammed over ‘stunning’ iiNet trial comments

News Groups Wrestle With Online Fees

New York Times eyes 2011 for online fees

Online news fees: financial salvation or suicide?

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