Greens back government’s expansion of website-blocking scheme

The Australian Greens have supported government legislation that significantly expands the current system of website-blocking injunctions targeting overseas-based online services that facilitate piracy.

The Senate yesterday passed the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2018; the legislation was passed by the lower house last month.

Labor supported both the 2015 bill establishing the site-blocking system as well as the 2018 bill; the Greens opposed the original 2015 legislation, however.

The new legislation will expand the current website-blocking system that allows copyright holders to obtain Federal Court injunctions ordering a telco to block its customers from an overseas-hosted online service that facilitates piracy.

The expanded system will allow injunctions that also force search engines to remove a piracy-linked site from their indexes.

It also changes the types of sites that can be targeted: Under the new legislation a block isn’t limited to a service that has the “primary purpose” of engaging in or facilitating copyright infringement. Instead a service can be targeted if it has the “primary effect” of engaging in or facilitating copyright infringement.

The government says the intention is to allow a much wider range of sites to be blocked, with services such as so-called ‘cyberlockers’ able to be targeted by rights holders.

Organisations representing Australia’s film, TV and music sectors have endorsed the legislation. However, tech and telecommunications companies have raised serious concerns about it.

Communications Alliance, for example, warned that it could lead to “overblocking” and that legitimate services such as virtual private networks (VPNs) could potentially be affected.

Senator Jordon Steele-John yesterday told the Senate that the Greens would support the bill, adding: “In doing so, we'd like to make clear that we are strongly supportive of both creative and innovative industries in Australia. We recognise that these fields are increasingly overlapping as digital distribution becomes more and more prevalent, and this has created both opportunities and risks for creators and service providers alike.”

The senator added that the Greens believed “site blocking is not the most effective way of stopping piracy.”

“Rather, copyright is most effectively addressed by making content available conveniently, affordably, and in a timely way,” Steele-John said.

“We have seen this happen with great effect with the popularity of Netflix in Australia and its subsequent downward influence on piracy rates. We acknowledge that, whilst the bill is intended to address doubts within the current scheme, unintended consequences of extending website blocking practices are a concern. And we will work to ensure that free speech and public discourse are not unduly affected.”

In 2015, the Greens warned that the site-blocking system could potentially expand over time. Scott Ludlam, at the time Greens communications spokesperson, told the Senate during debate on the 2015 legislation that the bill was both “lazy and dangerous” and would create “the architecture of a second Internet filter in this country”.

“Perhaps it is a modest little filter, but from little things big things grow,” Ludlam said. “This is not the kind of growth that we would be supporting.”

“The only effective way to deal with copyright infringement on the kind of scale that the government is concerned about is to just make it available: Conveniently, affordably and in a timely way,” argued Ludlam, who resigned from the Senate in 2017 after discovering he was a dual citizen.

“The distribution model mdash; where you could sit on your 20th century distribution bottleneck, put a property up on screen and then wait for two months and do the TV release, and then wait another two month and release it on DVDmdash;is broken. That model worked before the internet existed.

“Rather than coming up to speed with that fact and offering content in a timely, convenient and cost-effective way, the rights holders mdash; who have collectively donated around $4 million to those parties who are today championing their cause mdash; have called on the government to legislate. They finally found a pushover of an attorney-general and an opposition too weak to be bothered to turn up to the fight.”

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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