Site-blocking legislation passes Senate, Ludlam calls for right holders to “stop pretending the internet doesn’t exist”

The Government's proposed site-blocking legislation – the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 – today passed the Senate, with 37 votes for and 13 votes against.

The Bill will now be sent to the Governor-General for royal assent – purely a formality – after which it will come into effect the next day.

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.

Rights holders make requests for an injunction via the Federal Court, which may take into account the flagrancy of the infringement, whether the location demonstrates a disregard for copyright, and whether the location has been disabled by any other country.

During the Senate hearing, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam – the Bill's most prominent opponent – told rights holders to "stop pretending the internet doesn't exist".

"If people are determined to pirate, it's very difficult to stop them," said Ludlam during the hearing, stating that the only effective way to deal with copyright infringement is by rights holders increasing the local availability of content.

"The government is ignoring the opportunity to work with content providers and remove the reasons for people currently accessing content through torrents and other sources. Just deliver content in a timely and affordable manner, and piracy collapses."

"If you want people to stop people getting ripped off, make it available," said Ludlam. 

Ludlam also criticised the potential for the Bill's expansion, describing it as "lazy and dangerous".

"Does anyone seriously believe this scheme won't be expanded in the future?" said Ludlam.  "It has scope creep built into it."

The Greens Senator referred to the Australian Christian Lobby, which has already called for Bill to include an opt-out clean-feed that would block access to online pornography.

Ludlam proposed that debate on the Bill be adjourned until the Government responded to the "2013 inquiry into IT pricing", but the amendment was voted down.

LNP Senator Ian Macdonald wryly chastised Ludlam, calling him out for a "know-it-all-attitude". 

"Isn't the Senate lucky that we have someone with Senator Ludlam's expertise to explain this bill," said Macdonald, ironically. "It's only Senator Ludlam who knows and understands these issues."

"Infringement currently occurs on a large scale, therefore rights holders need measures to reduce the incentive to pirate."

After dismissing Ludlam's accusations of laziness, MacDonald proceed to read large portions of the Committee's report into site-blocking, almost word for word.

Labor Senator Jacinta Collins expressed her party's support for the bill, saying that it is only "directed at the worst of the worst".

Collins accused the Greens of politicising the Bill by calling it an "internet filter".

"The power to block websites is clearly to be exercised with great caution," said Collins. "Labor is satisfied that this bill is not overboard. We do not expect its operation to be controversial."

Collins also noted that the explanatory memorandum has been edited to say that virtual private networks (VPNs) are exempt from the legislation, but said that the Bill itself should be technology neutral.

Preceding a final vote on the Legislation, Ludlam proposed nine amendments to the Bill. These amendments dealt with concerns such as geo-blocking, the use of the word "facilitate", protected status for VPNs, and allowing third parties public-interest advocacy organisations such as Choice to join injunctions to make arguments against sites being blocked.

Each amendment was systematically shot down.

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