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Australia passes web-blocking laws

By | Published on Tuesday 23 June 2015


Hey Australia, worry not, we’ve had web-blocking for ages now, and it’s not resulted in the entire internet being censored offline by the sinister rights lobby.

Partly because the point is to block websites where people nick other people’s movies and music, not to censor or hinder creativity or shut down each and every digital locker. And partly because it’s really easy to circumvent the blockades. Look, I just downloaded you all the series finale of ‘Game Of Thrones’ via Kickass Torrents to prove it. Everyone dies, by the way.

So yes, as expected, Australia’s Senate has just passed the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 which brings a web-blocking system into effect in the country. Which means that rights owners can request that copyright infringing websites based beyond the jurisdiction of the Australian courts be blocked by ISPs, so that consumers can no longer access sites like the aforementioned Kickass and the always contentious Pirate Bay.

Web-blocking, of course, has become a preferred anti-piracy tactic in a number of European countries where the courts can already issue injunctions ordering ISPs to block offending sites. In the UK, Parliament actually rejected web-blocks (pretty much) when the Digital Economy Act was on the table in 2010, but the movie industry proved they were possible under existing copyright laws, and since then the music business has secured a plethora of blockades. And a number of other European countries have followed suit.

Nevertheless, web-blocking remains controversial, especially in those countries still considering such measures (you’ll remember all the hoo and the haa that occurred when a similar system was proposed in the US back in 2012).

Critics worry that websites that are primarily legitimate concerns, but which might inadvertently infringe or enable infringement, including search engines, digital lockers and user-generated content platforms, could get caught up in blocking crusade. Though in the main the sites content owners request be blocked are usually pretty conventional file-sharing sites clearly set up to provide access to copyright infringing music and movies.

People also argue that the web-blocks don’t work (former Pirate Bay spokesman Peter Sunde argued just that when asked about the new Aussie rules earlier this week). It’s true that it’s pretty easy to circumvent the blockades, but right owners say that the blocks still send out an important message. And if only Google would play ball and remove from its search results the proxies that make getting round the blocks so easy, the whole system would be a damn site more effective.

In the Australian Senate, the Greens led the opposition to the web-blocking plans, also proposing a number of amendments. In addition to the usual concerns about web-blocks, critics raised some other issues too, including the lack of clarity on who will pay for the blocking. But in the end the new measures passed 37 in favour to thirteen against.

Simon Bush of the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association predictably welcomed the new laws, telling the Sydney Morning Herald: “This is a watershed moment. It’s a fantastic day and a really positive sign for the creative content industry, who can invest more as a result”.

But Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens reaffirmed his opposition to the plans, saying: “There is increasing evidence to suggest that site-blocking is not the most effective means of stopping piracy. The only effective way to deal with copyright infringement on the kind of scale that the government is concerned about is to just make content available: conveniently, affordably and in a timely way”.

Australia is relatively late to the anti-piracy party, but the government there is now being particularly proactive on the issue, also pressuring ISPs to send out warning letters to suspected file-sharers. The web-blocking legislation will now be sent to the Governor-General for royal assent and then become law. Unless, of course, there is a last minute intervention from Taylor Swift. Because as you know, nothing is certain these days until Taylor Swift has spoken.