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Australian Parliament Passes Anti-Piracy Web Censorship Bill

Posted by: , 12:26 AEST, Thu June 25, 2015

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Australia to get new tough controversial anti-piracy laws that critics say can be easily abused
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The controversial Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 has been passed by both houses of the Australian parliament, as critics warn that the vague language in the bill could pose a significant danger to website operators and the general public.

Changes to existing copyright laws were lobbied by Hollywood backed groups in Australia to tackle the country's piracy problem, but consumer groups worry that the broad reach of the changes, plus the vague language used, could cause serious "collateral damage" to innocent websites.

The copyright law amendment allows private companies to apply to the Federal Court, to seek an injunction that would block foreign websites from being accessed in Australia, as long as the website is proven to be facilitating copyright infringement as the website's "primary purpose".

But without clear definitions as to what "primary purpose" or even "facilitating" actually means, Dr Matthew Rimmer, an associate professor at the Australian National University College of Law, says that this could be very "dangerous".

"What is 'primary purpose'? There's no definition. What is 'facilitation'? Again, there's no definition," says Rimmer.

Rimmer also warns that materials released by Wikileaks, for example, are often protected by copyright, and that the new law could be used to censor the dissemination of information made available in the public interest.

Despite recent research by the EU showing that website blocking is ineffective and potentially dangerous, Pro copyright groups in Australia welcomed the passing of the bill.

"We have a huge problem with these sites," said Music Rights Australia's Vanessa Hutley. "They make only money for the people who operate it, and so this will be an important arm for rights holders to protect their rights."

IP Australia Foundation's executive director Lori Flekser also welcomed the changes, saying they're needed to help content creators.

"We've got to encourage a respect for copyright and we've got to encourage the sheer self-interest that the audience can develop in making sure that the economic cycle that creates good new material is being funded by the ability to pay for it," said Flesker.

Media companies also weighed in on the changes. Richard Freudenstein, the Chief Executive of Foxtel, Australia's most dominant pay TV provider, says action was needed to stop this kind of "theft" from taking place. 

"We are pleased that the Government and Opposition have taken strong action to combat online piracy. They recognise that, not only is piracy theft and therefore morally wrong, it is harmful to Australia’s creative communities and to businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of Australians," said Freudenstein.

Consumer group Choice argues that website blocking is ineffective, and that high prices and lack of availability means many users exhaust the limited legal options available in Australia before infringing online.

The law changes did not specifically ban VPNs and geo-unblockers from being used to access content from overseas sources, but it also does not protect these services from being targeted by rights-holders.


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