Village Roadshow says piracy crackdown is necessary to protect Australian children

Following the introduction of the Federal Government's site-blocking legislation, the Parliament of Australia has published the first submissions made by industry commenting on the Bill. If made law, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill would force Australian internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to websites that facilitate piracy at the request of rights holders.

Village Roadshow Co-Chief Executive Officer Graham Burke took a principled approach in his submission, suggesting a crackdown on piracy is necessary to protect Australian children.

"Pirate sites are a sleazy neighbourhood which our children go to and they are selling hard-core pornography and scams such as party pills and steroids," wrote Burke.

Burke said that if "continued rampant online piracy" isn't addressed, it could result in the closure of the Australian film and television industry, as well as local cinemas, which he describes as the "soul of communities". He continued by saying that that all 46,000 Australians working full-time in the film and television industry are at risk of losing their job.

The submission reveal contention as to who should foot the cost of implementing the Bill, with Burke suggesting ISPs should take responsibility for the unintended consequences of their business.

"The ISPs in Australia gross $4 billion, while the cinema box office totals $1 billion," wrote Burke. "Ignore the scare tactics about the Code raising the cost of the ISP service as for the large ISPs, it is likely only a few extra low-level employees and minimum costs will be incurred in the scheme of things."

It should be noted that Burke's comparison falsely equates box office revenue with the entire revenue of the telecommunications sector, failing to take into account television, international content licensing, digital sales, rentals and physical media.

Village Roadshow supports the proposed legislation.

The Australian Communications Alliance wrote that it supports the Bill's underlying objectives, but that it will require several amendments to achieve the Government's stated objectives and reduce the risk of unintended consequences.

Communications Alliance's requested amendments included the following:

A guarantee that rights holders will be required to meet an ISP's legal costs and all reasonable costs associated with blocking a website.
Clarification of the method that an ISP will use to block a website.
A provision for a "landing page" hosted by rights holders so that internet users attempting to access a blocked site will see an explanation as to why the site was blocked.
To allow right holders to make an application against more than one ISP at a time, to prevent customers changing providers in order to avoid the effect of an injunction.

The Australian Copyright Council (ACC), while supportive of the Bill, doesn't believe it goes far enough. Two of the Council's key proposed amendments would make it easier for rights holders to block a website.

Fiona Philips, ACC's Executive Director, wrote that requiring the "primary purpose" of an online location to be copyright infringement is too high a threshold.

"We query how, as a matter of practice, a copyright owner can satisfy a court as to the primary purpose of a foreign service provider with which the copyright owner has no direct relationship," wrote Philips. "While we support the need to safeguard against blocking legitimate services, we are concerned that the primary purpose test may set the threshold so high as to make the regime practically unworkable."

Philips also proposed that the Federal Circuit Court be given the power to grant a site-blocking legislation. In its current form, the bill limits jurisdiction to the Federal Court of Australia. The Federal Circuit Court typically hears less complex cases, freeing up the Federal Court of Australia for more involved matters.

While Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull told the Sydney Morning Herald that Copyright Amendment Bill is not a filter, going as far as to call the allegation "complete BS", Australian Christian Lobby Queensland Director Wendy Francis has said that the technology should also be used to block online pornography.

"If technology can be used to protect content rights holders’ revenue, surely it can be used to protect children," said Francis.  "A default clean feed to protect children with opt-in for adults is a no-brainer."

"ACL respectfully calls on the Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull to reconsider his opposition to ISP filtering."

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