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Australia's 'Extreme' Copyright Bill Could Ban Anti-Copyright Thoughts

Posted by: , 11:22 AEST, Sun May 3, 2015

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Vague language in copyright amendment could grant unprecedented powers to curb anti-copyright related speech in Australia
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Image/Photo Credit: Horia Varlan @ Flickr, CC

Digital right group EFF has expressed concern that the vague language in Australia's proposed copyright law changes could ban websites owned by anyone who doesn't agree with the copyright lobby.

The Australian government is current mulling over new rules to block websites deemed to be "inappropriate" by rights-holders, but the current draft of the bill allows courts to ban any website whose owner or operator "demonstrates a disregard for copyright generally".

In the most liberal interpretation of the language, it could mean that individuals that hold a different opinion on the issue of copyright could find all of their websites subject to censorship. The EFF theorizes that "conscientious objectors" to copyright, including the likes of Leo Tolstoy and Woody Guthrie, would all belong to the same group that the bill would target.

On a less theoretical level, it could also mean that sites which offer instructions and discussions on circumvention and ripping could also be blocked, something that does not occur in any other region. This would amount to the banning of a certain type of speech online, allowing major rightsholders, like Hollywood studios, to determine what kind of copyright related speech would be allowed.

The other major part of the bill would see those that "facilitate the infringement of copyright" subject to blocking. The EFF believes this part of the bill will mainly target VPN service providers. The EFF, along with Google, Australian consumer organization Choice and even Australia's own competition regulator, the ACCC, are all opposing this particular change.

Other groups have also criticized the vague language in the bill, which frequently makes reference to "online location" without clarifying what this actually means. The Internet Society of Australia says this could mean anything from the blocking of a single webpage, to a whole domain, or even an entire server that hosts thousands of unrelated websites, causing massive collateral damage if the system is abused.

The Australian Libraries Copyright Committee also slated the bias towards major copyright holders, and the lack of meaningful copyright reform as part of the bill, including the failure to legally define "fair use" rights.

The public comment period on the legislation, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, closed two weeks ago. Having made their submission during the comment period, the EFF is now calling on the government to abandon the bill, and is also asking Australians to voice their concerns and call on their MPs and senators to stand against these proposed changes.

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