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Australian web-blocking system amended to copyright owners’ advantage

By | Published on Friday 30 November 2018


The Australian Parliament has passed a new law that will beef up web-blocking rules in the country. The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2018 was passed by the House Of Representatives last month and then by the Senate this week.

Specific laws were introduced to allow web-blocking in Australia back in 2015, so that copyright owners could seek injunctions forcing internet service providers to block customers from accessing copyright infringing websites. The new amendments are designed to deal with common bugbears in the copyright industries with the web-blocking process.

That includes allowing rights owners to more easily block mirror and proxy sites that are set up to circumvent existing web-blocks and new obligations forcing search engines to remove blocked sites and subsequent proxies from their search lists. Meanwhile the definition of sites that can be blocked will be altered so to include web platforms whose ‘primary effect’ is copyright infringement, whereas previously it was ‘primary purpose’.

Welcoming the passing of the amendments, Australia’s Minister For Communications, Mitch Fifield, told reporters: “The government has zero tolerance for online piracy. It is theft and damaging to our creative economy and local creators. We are committed to protecting Australia’s creative industries and the world-class content we produce every year. The passage of our legislation today sends a strong message to online pirates that Australia does not tolerate online theft”.

As with any new anti-piracy measures, there were critics of the amendments to the country’s web-blocking rules, in particular from the tech sector. The Australian Digital Alliance, which represents web giants Google and Facebook among other entities, criticised in particular the expansion of the scope of web-blocking.

Its Executive Director Jessica Coates is quoted by Forbes as saying: “[The] ‘primary effect’ test significantly broadens its scope far beyond the piracy sites that were originally envisioned, and runs the risk of enabling the blocking of a large range of innocent and commonly used websites, such as meme-generators, auto-translation services and even VPNs. This is a significant departure from the stated intent of the scheme when it passed in 2015, which was to capture only ‘the worst of the worst’ websites”.

The government has said it will review the impact of the new amendments in two years time.