Second anniversary of IT pricing report approaches

Government response to IT pricing inquiry still in the works

The government is "considering its response" to the IT pricing inquiry, according to a Q&A document issued by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today.

The Q&A was focussed on government-commissioned research into the level of copyright infringement in Australia.

The report (PDF) of the IT pricing inquiry was tabled almost two years ago.

Next week will mark the report's second anniversary.

The current government has put a substantial effort into cracking down on copyright infringement — including introducing a system of court orders to block pirate websites and taking a more-stick-than-carrot approach to get the telco industry to introduce an infringement notice scheme.

By comparison, addressing the 10 recommendations of the report — many of which were aimed at ending the disparity between what Australians pay for digital goods, such as music downloads, compared to consumers in other countries — seems to have been low on the government's priority list.

(To be fair, Turnbull has often noted that rights holders have a role to play in reducing copyright infringement).

Neither the former Labor government nor the current Coalition government has issued a formal response to the report and its 10 recommendations.

The report's recommendations include clarifying the right for consumers to circumvent geoblocking, educating businesses and consumers on the use of anti-geoblocking techniques and scrapping restrictions on parallel imports.

The report said the government should also investigate amending the Competition and Consumer Act so as to render void contracts or terms of service that seek to enforce geoblocking and, as an option of last resort, consider banning geoblocking altogether.

The Harper Review into competition policy, released earlier this year, backed ending restrictions on parallel imports and supported "ensuring that consumers are able to take lawful steps to circumvent attempts to prevent their access to cheaper legitimate goods".

The Harper Review noted the IT pricing inquiry's recommendation that the Copyright Act be amended to explicitly support anti-geoblocking measures by consumers.

"The Panel favours encouraging the use of market-based mechanisms to address international price discrimination rather than attempting to introduce a legislative solution," the review stated.

"The legality of [anti-geoblocking mechanisms such as VPNs] is the subject of some debate and is likely to depend on the specific circumstances and the terms and conditions relating to the transaction," the review stated (it did note that Turnbull has indicated in the government's view geoblocking circumvention is not a breach of copyright).

During lower house debate on the government's legislation to introduce a framework for blocking access to pirate websites (which received bipartisan support), Labor attempted to pass an amendment to the motion for a second reading calling for the government to respond to the IT pricing inquiry report by 17 September. It failed.

The site-blocking legislation was criticised by consumer advocates as an attempt to entrench the 'Australia tax' — the term for the disparity in the pricing of digital goods here compared to other countries.

July 29 marks the second anniversary of the IT pricing report's tabling.

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