If you can hear the faint sound of champagne corks popping in the background, pay no mind, it’s simply the rights holders of Australia celebrating their victory. As Fairfax reports, the senate have passed a controversial piece of anti-piracy website-blocking legislation.
The film, TV, and music industries couldn’t be happier. For them, this is a watershed moment, coming after years of battling record levels of piracy. As Gizmodo reports, Foxtel have issued a glowing statement praising the new legislation, while the music world has done the same.
“The music industry welcomes the passage of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement )Bill. The new section 115A gives copyright owners the ability to apply for court orders against illegal offshore sites whose primary purpose is copyright infringement,” said Vanessa Hutley, General Manager Music Rights Australia.
“We thank the Government and the Opposition for supporting this important legislation and through it showing their support of the creative industries which are such an important part of Australia’s cultural and economic life.”
“Section 115A gives the creative community an effective tool to disrupt illegal off shore sites which make millions of dollars from advertising but give nothing back to the artists whose work they systematically exploit on a massive scale.
“Australian consumers have over 30 licensed online music sites to choose from across a range of platforms and at price points, including free on advertising supported services, yet these illegal sites have continued to flourish and make money for their operators because there was nothing the copyright owners could do locally to stop them. Until now.”
However, not everyone’s on board. One intellectual property academic has already called the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, which was introduced into parliament by Malcolm Turnbull in March and passed by the senate last night, as “a very dark day for the internet in Australia”.
So what is the legislation and how will it affect your daily internet usage? Well, the first question is a little easier to answer than the second. For starters, the law, which received bipartisan support (37-13), allows rights holders to go to a Federal Court judge and get infringing overseas sites blocked.
The stipulation is that the sites must have the “primary purpose” of facilitating copyright infringement. Should the rights holder be successful in their blocking request, Australian ISPs will be forced to comply with the judge’s order by disabling access to the site for their users.
Of course, it’ll be up to the judge to determine whether or not the “primary purpose” of a site was to facilitate copyright infringement. For example, while pirated material can be shared via Dropbox, this is not the primary purpose of the site.“So what is the legislation and how will it affect your daily internet usage? Well, the first question is a little easier to answer than the second.”
The same, of course, cannot be said of the likes of The Pirate Bay, KickAssTorrents, and other torrent sites, where most of the internet’s pirated material is stored and traded these days. Naturally, these are expected to be among the first websites in rights holders’ sights.
This will be the most obvious change to your day-to-day browsing habits. If you enjoy regularly downloading pirated content off The Pirate Bay, it may be time to finally say goodbye to this nefarious habit.
While the legislation is, on the surface, positive, as it will hopefully give our local entertainment industry a boost and it’s not individual users who are on the hook in court, critics of the legislation, including Greens MP Scott Ludlam, fear the laws could be open to abuse.
In a post to the Greens site and speaking to ABC News, Ludlam said the legislation set up a copyright regime controlled by foreign content producers and explained his belief that the cause of piracy is delayed releasing of movies and TV shows.
“My concern really isn’t that this bill is going to do anything to protect artists and make sure they get paid for their work, because obviously everybody supports that, but the potential down the track is for the scope of the bill to be broadened and for the extremely loose and poorly defined language in the bill to be exploited as well,” he said.
“We moved a number of quite sensible amendments that are supported by the consumer protection groups who have been following the debate, and Labor again has backed up the Abbott Government and so now it passes into law.” In a statement, Sen Ludlam called the bill “lazy and dangerous”.
Speaking to Fairfax, Dr Matthew Rimmer, an associate professor at the ANU College of Law, echoed Sen Ludlam’s sentiments. “It’s a very dark day for the internet in Australia because there’s been bipartisan support for this Luddite censorship bill,” he said.
Dr Rimmer’s concern is that these “radical” changes could see sites whose primary purpose isn’t to hold infringing material, such as Dropbox, getting caught up and blocked. He also cited problems with how the bill is worded and the way it leaves several definitions unaddressed.
“What is ‘primary purpose’? There’s no definition. What is ‘facilitation’? Again, there’s no definition,” he told Fairfax. “I think the larger question will be what sites will be affected? Will rights holders be focussed on the sites they want to target or will there be collateral damage?”
Collateral damage? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. Federal government agency ASIC infamously blocked access to about 250,000 innocuous websites during its crusade against just one fraudulent site after providing ISPs with the wrong IP address.
Dr Rimmer also fears the legislation could be used for political purposes. For example, governments (federal or overseas) could use it to censor information provided to whistleblower sites such as WikiLeaks, as government and corporate information is often protected by copyright.
It’s also probably worth noting, as ZDNet do, that the parliament had just three months to consider the legislation, and the Senate committee examining the legislation held just one hearing where one Labor senator and one Coalition senator attended.
So, we know now what the legislation is and how it could potentially be misused. But the issue of just how this will affect Australian users still remains unclear outside of the obvious fact that it will soon be a whole lot tougher to find and download torrents.
The legislation does not indicate whether ISPs will bear the costs for blocking sites, which is a move that could see the extra cost then passed on to your internet bill, but Labor Senator Jacinta Collins said the government have indicated rights holders will bear the costs.
At the moment, the most immediate concern for users is ‘scope creep’. Government legislation, particularly a bill as vaguely worded as this, has a way of opening itself up for abuse, and it’s important the government and we as citizens don’t allow that to happen.
— Scott Ludlam (@SenatorLudlam) June 22, 2015