The Piracy Debate: Maintaining a Standard

"Rights holders are 'control freaks peddling futility-on-a-stick,' says iiNet" trumpets the CNET headline, atop an article of surpassing laziness and questionable intent.

As it happens, I too am a 'rights holder' (although I confess I enjoy being referred as a 'rights holder' about as much I like being called a 'content creator', or, worse, a 'creative'). How dare iiNet call me a control freak! How dare they lambast my stick-centric peddling of futility! Incensed, I navigated straight over to iiNet's offending blog, fully prepared to dial my outrage all the way up to incandescence.

It was there that I made a startling discovery. It turns out iiNet didn't really say those things at all. Undeniably, the phrases 'content control freaks' and 'futility-on-a-stick' do appear. But they don't appear together, and are separated not only by about half the length of the 1,500 word article, but by differing contexts.

For example, it is Hollywood whom they accuse of peddling 'futility-on-a-stick', specifically in its dealings with Canberra: 'Let’s not buy into the ‘futility-on-a-stick’ that Hollywood is peddling in Canberra."

The later line about 'content control freaks' is clearly aimed at those who are actually are behaving like control freaks. There's never any implication that all 'rights holders' are being thus dismissed. Disappointingly, reading the actual source material rather dampened my ability to achieve a white-hot level of outrage. Reading source material often does that.

Moving below CNET's click-bait headline, I discovered that iiNet's 'Steve Dalby has warned that Australia risks becoming "a brain-dead zombie" if it does not learn from mistakes seen in other regions and take a different approach to piracy.' Actual quote: 'We’re not the only country looking for solutions and we’d have to be a brain-dead zombie to simply lurch along, ignoring the fate of those who went before.' Doesn't really seem like a warning at all. A cliché, certainly, but not a warning.

The rest of CNET's article is no better, and in truth deserves to be labelled content creation in every pejorative sense. The writer has merely scoured iiNet's blog post in order to find the most inflammatory terms and phrases, which are then shorn of context and reassembled haphazardly; more evidence, if more were needed, of the sad principle that it takes far more skill to inject nuance into a piece of writing than it does to drain it out. Dalby's initial painstaking assertion that iiNet in no way condones piracy is curiously glossed by the CNET article.

Indeed, the entire point of the iiNet article is glossed. Its basic thrust is that site-blocking at the ISP level simply doesn't work, and it goes to some lengths to explain why. Circumventing any but the most restrictive controls requires only very minimal technical expertise, and as soon as one avenue closes more pop up. Piracy is, as Dalby avers, a multi-headed Hydra.

Little of this detail survives CNET's attempt to summarise it, though there's no reason to believe CNET in general or this writer in particular cares about the issue either way. The main goal for this kind of 'reporting' appears to be the propagation of conflict, and by extension the generation of page views.

Such dire 'journalism' has by now become so commonplace as to be unremarkable, even in fields like ICT, a phenomenon that should itself be more remarked upon. Like video piracy, it turns out bad journalism is a multi-headed Hydra. The standard of the current piracy debate is already subterranean. Ultimately it does no one any favours when journalists do all they can to keep it down there.