For many years Australia has struggled with a reputation for being a country of file-sharing pirates. Following a period of heated debate, during the summer of 2014 two key piracy-tackling strategies boiled to the surface.
First, in some way, shape or form, copyright holders would get access, indirectly if necessary, to communicate with errant Internet users found to be downloading and sharing copyrighted material without permission.
Pressure built, with the government warning ISPs that they must come up with a voluntary solution to the problem or have one forced upon them. Last month in collaboration with rightsholders, proposals were placed on the table. It now seems almost certain that Aussie file-sharers will be subjected to a three-strikes style regime.
The second element involved the ‘pirate’ sites themselves. Australian law allows local authorities to easily close down sites in their own territory should the need arise. While that’s not unheard of – a 400,000 member torrent tracker was shut down in 2008 – Australia isn’t best known for hosting popular torrent sites. The problem, according to the government, comes from overseas.
Early December 2014, Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked the Cabinet to approve the development of a new legal mechanism which would allow rightsholders to obtain site blocking injunctions against ISPs. And now, just three months later, it is all systems go.
This week the government will deliver new legislation to tackle the problem. Led by Brandis, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill was today cleared for introduction into parliament. And things are moving extremely quickly.
According to ITNews, the legislation is planned to be introduced into parliament Wednesday or Thursday with a view to having it passed by the end of the week.
Despite many countries now making extensive use of the process, site blocking itself is highly controversial. In the UK, for example, rightsholders initially have to go court but are then free to add news sites to existing injunctions, even ones that don’t directly infringe any copyrights.
So what mechanism does the Aussie model envision? Somewhat disappointingly those details are being kept a secret. The text of the bill hasn’t yet been made public and even the country’s ISPs are being kept in the dark.
John Stanton, CEO of the Communications Alliance, the body that proposed the recent “three strikes” system on behalf of ISPs, said he is “disappointed” that his group hadn’t been consulted. Some consultation would have of course been preferable, since it is the ISPs who will be expected to put the site blocks into place.
Whether copyright holders have a greater insight isn’t clear, but the head of the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association confirmed that he hadn’t seen a copy of the draft legislation either.
In any event, introducing site blocking to Australian Internet users should be an interesting thing to behold, especially when compared to other site-block regions with different consumption pattern backgrounds.
After years of being treated as second-class content consumers who have to wait longer and pay more for their content, Aussies have become extremely adept at using VPN and proxy services to access legal services such as Netflix. Those same tools can be used to easily evade site bans and recent concerns over the introduction of a strikes mechanism has only boosted interest in them.