Neil Gane: “The moral and ethical question of taking something that doesn’t belong to you”

Neil Gane, general manager of Asia Video Industry Association’s Coalition Against Piracy, discusses content theft and the urgent need for industries and governments to work together to combat it.

Neil Gane

Content theft has been with us for years and has evolved as the technology has evolved. VHS copies gave way to DVDs which gave way to DVD-Rs and today we have done away with the physical product altogether and content theft has moved to ones and zeros. As video-on-demand (VOD) torrents and downloads have moved to Live and VOD streams, the stolen product has become even more transient whilst presenting no single point of attack from a law enforcement perspective. Our efforts to eradicate the unfettered supply of stolen content has certainly become more challenging.

However it is not all bad news. We believe that governments are increasingly agreeing that the online world needs to be managed and there needs to be rules. As more and more business is done online, the internet must be a safe environment. It also needs to become an environment where ethics and values mirror those in the offline world. Society does not accept blatant theft from high street stores and neither should it be accepted on the internet. Unfortunately online piracy is a relatively easy form of theft and anyone with an internet connection can access stolen content. The ease of such arm-chair theft has been used as moral justification for such unethical behaviour. To date we, as an industry, have often just looked at each other, shrugged and said that it is too difficult an issue to resolve. That is nonsense. The problem has reached a size and scale that we have to say enough is enough.

Content theft is not a victimless crime. It is not just affecting big established video companies. It affects all independent and international businesses involved in the production and distribution of entertainment content. It is affecting every aspect of the video entertainment ecosystem from live sports events to international media companies to small local production and service providers, that are now a key part of the entertainment distribution industry.

Unfortunately online consumers in SE Asia have an unhealthy appetite for viewing stolen content. A September YouGov consumer survey in Indonesia found that 29 per cent of online consumers use an illicit streaming device (ISD) to access stolen content such as live sports channels and premium video-on-demand content and a staggering 63 per cent of respondents access piracy streaming websites. In Vietnam 66 per cent use an ISD to access stolen content and 61 per cent have accessed piracy streaming websites. In the Philippines, 34 per cent use an ISD to access pirated content and two thirds of Filipino online consumers (66 per cent) use piracy streaming websites. Such concerning statistics are not dissimilar in other SE Asian countries.

The supply chain behind such content theft is organised crime, pure and simple, with crime syndicates making substantial illicit profit from piracy streaming websites and the provision of illegally re-transmitted live sports and other TV channels delivered to consumers via pre-loaded ISDs. Many syndicates and individuals associated with the piracy ecosystem are involved in other criminal endeavours and there is a likelihood that part of the illegal proceeds are used to finance other criminal activities.

There is an urgent need for industry and the government to work together to define a clear and effective strategy to tackle the content theft ecosystem, which may mean modernising and tailoring regulatory frameworks to specifically deal with ISDs and the illicit application ecosystem. There is no simple solution and no one silver bullet, and there will always be consumers who prefer to free-ride and be able to morally justify such online theft. That said, there is no problem that can’t be solved. We are living through an era where technological change is outpacing the lifespan of a business models ability to see return on investment. What is required is a holistic solution with all stakeholders including government, content producers, distributors and industry associations working together to address this serious and growing problem.

Content theft on its’ current scale is simply unsustainable, and we are confident that governments in SE Asia will put measures into place to curb this. It is happening already and the problem can be effectively disrupted. It is AVIA’s intention to be at the forefront of encouraging governments and industry to do what is fair and effective. The time for change is now.

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