Australians have, quite unsurprisingly, come to loathe region coding, particularly in the age of digital media.
Not only do we pay significantly more for the same products for no decent reason, but they often arrive late – after their moment has passed – or, indeed, not at all.
And, naturally, the media companies committed to trying to wring every possible ounce of profit out of us, who don’t have any respect for their responsibilities as the custodians of the material over which our governments have granted them a temporary monopoly, are determined to prevent us doing something about it. Hence media players that refuse to let us view content purchased lawfully overseas, regardless of the fact that parallel importing is quite legal here.
Which brings us to this post on Kotaku the other week about modchipping consoles. In short, the High Court formerly held that modchips were fine if they had a lawful purpose such as overcoming region coding – if the console manufacturers insisted on making the part of their system that prevented the playing of pirated software the same system that prevented lawful use, then they couldn’t expect our courts to ban such devices.
That was a good ruling. It gave these manufacturers an incentive to not screw over Australians – you don’t try to impose something you have no right to impose, and we’ll look after your copyright.
Unfortunately, then John Howard signed us up to the disastrously one-sided “Free Trade” Agreement with the US, which now essentially reverses that position: if a device gets around region coding but also enables piracy, it’s prohibited. (Supposedly – it doesn’t appear to have been tested in the High Court yet.) So now the console manufacturers are rewarded for tying those systems together, and they get to enforce their abuse of monopoly privileges on the rest of us.
So, with the next generation of such hardware re-implementing region coding technology with increased vigour, is there any hope for Australian consumers? Will the ACCC finally stand up and fight against this abuse of competition? Will an Australian government undo the damage from Howard’s sucking-up to George Bush? Will one of these companies finally learn the lesson from Steam that not ripping off your customers is actually vastly more profitable?
Or will they continue to be surprised that Australia has such a high piracy rate?