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Australian government considering three-strikes and web-blocking

By | Published on Monday 17 February 2014


Australia could be the next country to introduce a three-strikes or web-blocking system for combating online piracy, the nation’s Attorney-General George Brandis told a meeting of the Australian Digital Alliance on Friday.

As much previously reported, various countries around the world have introduced new laws to help the content industries try and fight online piracy, the two most favoured systems being three-strikes or web-blocking.

The former, often officially known as the ‘graduated-response system’, forces internet service providers to send warning letters to suspected file-sharers, threatening some kind of sanction if they continue to infringe. The latter introduces a process by which rights owners can request ISPs block access to certain piracy-enabling websites.

New Zealand and France are amongst the countries to have introduced a statutory three-strikes system, while new copyright laws in Spain went the web-blocking route. In the UK, parliament opted for a three-strikes scenario in 2010, but has done nothing to enact the process since, while the courts have enabled rights owners to exercise web-blocks.

Both systems could be on the agenda in Australia. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Brandis told the ADA: “The government will be considering possible mechanisms to provide a legal incentive for an internet service provider to cooperate with copyright owners in preventing infringement on their systems and networks”.

He went on: “This may include looking carefully at the merits of a scheme whereby ISPs are required to issue graduated warnings to consumers who are using websites to facilitate piracy. This is a complex reform proposal, and how it is paid for is one of the principal unresolved issues. Another option that some stakeholders have raised with me is to provide the federal court with explicit powers to provide for third party injunctions against ISPs, which will ultimately require ISPs to take down websites hosting infringing content”.

Of course both three-strikes and web-blocking are controversial measures, and detractors of both claim that the anti-piracy systems are ineffective in combating the distribution of unlicensed content online. Across the board, research into anti-piracy methods is rarely conclusive, though three-strikes is labour intensive and it’s debatable whether it actually provides a decent return on investment. Web-blocking has potential, though its impact remains limited while search engines provide easy access to proxies circumventing the blockades, something the rights owners are currently trying to tackle.

Brandis insisted he’d prefer voluntary agreements between the content companies and net firms, though in most cases that hasn’t been achieved, except where the ISPs have vested interests, ie are also in the video-on-demand business. If voluntary agreements can’t be reached, Brandis indicated that he’d be on the side of the copyright owners, concluding: “I firmly believe the fundamental principles of copyright law, the protection of rights of creators and owners, did not change with the advent of the internet and they will not change with the invention of new technologies”.