Share frustration: the state of television, and why people illegally download


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or on dial up, you would have heard of the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act (2011), aka “that pesky illegal downloading law”.

In short, get caught downloading or sharing copyrighted material three times and you’re in trouble.

The reality is more complicated. The account owner, in the eyes of the law, is culpable, even if it’s their child/customer/total stranger who did the deed. The onus of proof falls on the alleged offender, rather than the authorities as it would with any other law. This excellent op-ed from Juha Saarinen contains real life examples of both scenarios.

The $25 fee for copyright holders is supposed to reduce the number of frivolous charges against all and sundry, but the fact remains the law is a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

This is not an endorsement of illegal downloading. It’s unfair to take revenue from those who have created intellectual property – say, for example, Flight of the Conchords. It’s even unfair to take revenue from nonintellectual property, like, say, The Ridges.

The problem in New Zealand, in terms of television, is less an unwillingness to pay for content but more about a poor broadcasting model where people must wait months, sometimes longer, for content to make it over from the US and the UK.

For too long our broadcasters have drip-fed us shows at a time of their choosing (Chris Philpott’s frustration at this model makes for illuminating and fun reading).

Hey, they own the rights so what they do is up to them. It just isn’t compatible with 21st Century viewing habits. It’s about as clever as TV One removing Episodes from the air midway through the series.

Last September, TUANZ’s CEO Paul Brislen participated in an online chat about the file sharing law on the New Zealand Herald website. His replies diagnosed the problem nicely:

“There’s a wealth of good quality TV coming out of the US (and other places) that’s better than ever before and unfortunately it’s simply not made available in New Zealand in a timely fashion.

“Can you imagine if it was the rugby – the All Blacks playing Australia. It’s live in Australia, in the UK, South Africa and around the world but in New Zealand the TV network said “we’re going to screen that game at a later date, when we’re good and ready”… There would be a riot.”

If there is any one quote that should stick in your mind, it’s this:

“The problem isn’t that I want it for free – the problem is I want it now, but the rights holders’ business model doesn’t allow that.” [emphasis added]

Not much to ask for, surely?

We emailed Paul recently to see how he was feeling about things 14 months on. It’s safe to say his attitude remains unchanged.

“It’s not rocket science, is it? Customers want something in a timely fashion – they’ll get it without your help so why not give them that help… seems straightforward to me.”

So has anything improved over the last twelve months?

“I’m pleased to say since that interview the TV channels are getting a bit more clued up,” says Paul.

“We’ve got TV3 screening Homeland only hours after it airs in the US and FOUR has half a dozen shows that are shown as quickly as possible. I’m told the ratings for those four shows have increased noticeably since they did this.”

Mediaworks’ punctuality is paying dividends, and rightly so. I dare not ring any Homeland fans on a Monday night for fear of a reprisal attack.

This complements Four’s ‘Fast Four’ initiative well. This sees a number of shows screening within a week (sometimes even the same day) of the States. So if you like dysfunctional cartoon families, high school kids who randomly burst into song, or quirky girls acting all quirky-like while everyone gushes over how quirky she is, you know where to go.

The one ‘pitfall’, if you can call it that, is we are at the mercy of the US television schedule, described in The Guardian as roughly “as incomprehensible to a newcomer as a Rubik’s Cube is to a squirrel with a migraine.”

Long story short, the American networks take breaks for a. big sporting events and b. to screen their shows when the ratings will be highest (the “sweeps’ period). When they’re on break, our broadcasters dip into the archives. So really we’re no better or worse off than the States, except we don’t get free-to-air baseball.

So what else can you do if you want to be a good law-abiding citizen but want to get your TV fix now?

At the moment, not much. Part two, coming next week, will go through a few of the alternatives, though most of these are things to keep yourself occupied while the networks catch up.

Some of you can probably guess what they are. Share your thoughts, without penalty, below or over on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Share frustration: the state of television, and why people illegally download

  1. Pingback: Share frustration part 2: what to watch until your TV set catches up | Open2view

  2. Pingback: Mix tapes and cardboard stereos: six novel hi-fi gift ideas for the silly season | Open2view

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