Site-blocking legislation set to pass with Labor’s support

The Senate committee investigating the government's proposed site-blocking legislation today offered bipartisan support for the Bill, recommending that Parliament passes it into law.

The legislation, first introduced by Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull in March, will give rights holders the power to compel local internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to international websites that facilitate piracy.

"The committee takes the view that online copyright infringement poses a significant threat to the viability and success of Australia's creative industries," wrote committee chair and Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald in the accompanying report.

The committee made four recommendations, suggesting that the Bill "may be too prescriptive" in its current form. Presently, the Bill says the Court "is to take" matters into account such as the "flagrancy of the facilitation of infringement",  whether a site has been blocked in other locations, and whether it is in the public interest to block a site when deciding whether to grant right holders an injunction.

The committee recommended that the wording to be changed to "may take the following matters into account", suggesting that the Court should be able to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis.

As part of this recommendation, the committee noted that VPNs should be exempt from the Bill, and asked that the government clarify this in the Bill's explanatory memorandum.

Other recommendations included the requirement for a landing page on blocked sites, explaining why the site was blocked; a formal review of the Bill's effectiveness after two years; and greater clarity as to which party will cover the costs associated with blocking websites.

The Bill's implementation is expected to cost ISPs AUD$130,000 per year.

The committee noted that the Bill is not intended to be a complete solution to Australia's copyright infringement problem, and would not stop rights holders from protecting their content in other manners.

In an additional comment from Labor Party Senators Jacinta Collins and Catryna Bilyk, the pair called for a broader reform of Australian copyright law.

"We support reasonable measures to discourage piracy," wrote the Labor Senators. "This includes blocking, by court order, overseas websites which flout the law and operate as online havens for copyright infringement. Accordingly, Labor will support this Bill subject to the government accepting the committee’s recommendations."

"However, there is much more work to be done on updating Australia’s copyright laws.  Labor calls on the government to proceed with a broader reform of copyright law. It is certainly important to take action against piracy, but there is a clear need for much more sweeping reform to protect the interests of artists, industry and consumers alike."

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam provided a lone voice of dissent, staunchly opposing the legislation. 

"The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 is the latest in a long line of misguided attempts by the government to monitor, control and censor the Internet," wrote Ludlam. "The Bill will allocate a significant new censorship power to the Court that will be used by copyright owners to block access to online content. However, there is a substantial weight of evidence showing that it will be relatively easy to evade the Bill's provisions, that it does not contain appropriate safeguards, and that it may result in legitimate online sources being blocked."

The government has previously indicated that it wants the legislation passed before the end of June.

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