Copyright Law Professor Urges Australia to Repeal Site-Blocking Laws

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The Australian Government is moving full speed ahead with plans to expand its current pirate site-blocking laws. The new proposals make it easier to block new domains and will allow for search engine blocking. According to law professor Matthew Rimmer, these expansions go too far. Instead of a copyright crackdown, the Government should work on a "bill of rights" to protect the freedoms of Australians, he notes.

Three years ago Australia amended its copyright law to pave the way for pirate site blocking injunctions.

Section 115a of Australia’s Copyright Act allows rightsholders to request ISP blockades of infringing sites in local courts and has been actively used since.

While the entertainment industries have signaled that the legislation is effective, they also see room for improvement. The Australian Government appears to agree, as it has tabled a series of amendments that will strengthen the blocking capabilities.

Among other things, the new plans will allow copyright holders to apply for injunctions that will not only target infringing ‘online locations’ but also their appearances in searches. This means that Google and other search engines can be required to remove entire domains from their search results.

This plan is backed by many entertainment industry companies, including the very vocal Village Roadshow.

Google, meanwhile, has asked the Government to slow down, describing an expansion at this time as premature. Similarly, the Digital Industry Group, representing Facebook, Google, and Twitter, cautioned against the expansions as well.

Aside from directly affected stakeholders, other interested parties have also chimed in. This includes Matthew Rimmer, Professor in Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Faculty of Law, at the Queensland University of Technology.

In his submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications last week, Rimmer heavily criticizes the existing site blocking efforts as well as the planned expansions.

The professor notes that Australia’s copyright regime is closely tied to the US copyright system, where similar site-blocking efforts were previously rejected.

“Given the United States Congress rejected the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) site-blocking legislation, the Australian Parliament should similarly reject the crude policy option of site-blocking,” Rimmer’s first recommendation reads.

According to the professor, there’s not enough evidence to indicate that the current blocking measures have been effective. The evidence that’s available comes from the entertainment industry, which seems to be a weak foundation for new copyright laws, he says.

Instead of expanding current site-blocking laws, Rimmer recommends repealing the original blocking measures instead.

“Given that the legislation has failed to fulfill its original aims and objectives, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 (Cth) should be repealed, rather than expanded.”

The professor notes that the new plans to add search engines is “far too broad and wide in its intent and its impact.” This makes it open to abuse by copyright holders.

The blocking efforts could restrict access to public domain works, for example, and Rimmer stresses that respect for freedom of speech and freedom of expression is inadequate.

“The further expansion of site-blocking by the Australian Parliament will have larger implications for freedom of speech and expression in the digital age,” Rimmer cautions.

Instead of increasing the enforcement options for media companies, the professor calls on the Government to work on a “bill of rights” to protect the freedoms of Australian citizens instead.

“Australia does need a bill of rights to better protect the freedoms of Australian citizens. This is particularly important in the context of regulation of the Internet, search engines, and cloud computing,” Rimmer notes in his final recommendation.

A copy of Rimmer’s full submission can be found here (pdf).


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