Federal Government introduces site blocking bill in fight against piracy

The Federal Government today introduced new legislation that would force Australian internet service providers (ISPs) to, at the request of copyright holders, block access to websites that facilitate piracy. 

The Bill's explanatory memorandum states that the Bill "amends the Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) to enable the owner of a copyright to apply to the Federal Court of Australia for an order requiring a Carriage Service Provider (CSP) to block access to an online location that has the primary purpose of infringing copyright or facilitating the infringement of copyright".

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement Bill) specifically refers to websites hosted "outside Australia" where the primary purpose is to "infringe, or to facilitate the infringement of, copyright." In determining whether to grant a copyright holder's request, the Court would be required to take the following into account:

Whether it can be proved that infringement is occurring within Australia
The flagrancy of the infringement Whether the online location acts as a directory of copyright material
Whether the website's owner demonstrates a disregard for copyright
Whether the website has been blocked in any other country
Whether disabling access to the online location is a proportion response in the circumstances
Whether it is in the public interest to disable access to the online location

Content owners will not be restricted in the number of websites that be blocked via one injunction, but a judge will be able to limit the time a website is blocked for.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam slammed the plan when it was first announced at the end of 2014.

"The Greens will not support amendments to the Copyright Act to allow rights holders to apply for a court order requiring ISPs to block access to a website," said Ludlam. "Such a move would be a defacto Internet filter and would allow rights holders to unilaterally require websites to be blocked."

However, Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull dismissed the suggestion that blocking piracy sites is internet filter as "nonsense".

Labor has not yet publicly declared a stance on the Bill.

According to John Stanton, CEO of the Communications Alliance, Australia’s telecommunications industry was not consulted on the drafting of the Bill.

“We have given conditional support for this initiative but have cautioned that web-site blocking is a relatively blunt tool, with risks of ‘collateral damage’ if not applied with precision,” said Stanton. “The Bill should, for example, ensure that ‘online location’ is precisely defined, to reduce the risk that web-sites may be unintentionally impacted when multiple websites reside under a single IP address or domain.”

While the Bill does not state how a website should be blocked, the Government estimates that it will cost ISPs AUD$130,000 per year to comply with the scheme. It is currently unclear whether or not ISPs will receive compensation. 

The Bill must pass in both the lower and upper house before it becomes law.

5:02pm: Updated with comment from Communications Alliance.

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