Google Criticizes Aussie Site-Blocking Plan, Village Roadshow Attacks Google

Australia is seeking to strengthen its site-blocking legislation, allowing 'pirate' sites to be added to injunctions without court oversight while removing sites from search results. In a submission to the government, Google says it opposes the measures, describing them as "rushed" and without supporting evidence. In its submission, Village Roadshow says Google's piracy fight is a "sham" and helps people "steal movies".

Section 115a of Australia’s Copyright Act allows copyright holders to apply for injunctions that force ISPs to block ‘pirate’ sites. It’s been in force since 2015 and dozens of platforms have been blocked since.

Now, however, the Australian government (with plenty of encouragement from rightsholders) is seeking to strengthen the law with a series of amendments.

ISPs are currently required to block sites listed in an injunction but the amendments go further, enabling sites that “have started to provide access to the online location after the injunction is made,” to be added after, without oversight of the Federal Court.

Additionally, another amendment allows rightsholders to apply for injunctions that will not only target infringing ‘online locations’ but also their appearances in searches. This, of course, opens up the possibility that Google will have to censor its search results.

In a new submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Google’s Public Policy and Government Relations Manager Derek Slater pours cold water on both proposals.

“While Google supports effective industry led measures to fight piracy, Google does not support the proposed amendments foreshadowed in the Extended Site Blocking Bill,” Google writes.

“In particular, Google opposes Section 115(2B)(a)(ii) and (b)(ii) of the Bill, which would have the effect of removing the direct oversight of the Federal Court over the site blocking process and instead leave it to commercial entities to decide which websites Australian users may access.”

Slater says that Google is concerned that the bill is being rushed forward in the absence of evidence that current legislation isn’t doing its job. The company is also concerned that there hasn’t been a “thorough, comprehensive and independent review” of the alleged problems with existing law and whether the amendments will prove effective.

Google’s submission notes that, to its knowledge, the Federal Court always grants injunctions when appropriate and that follow-on orders (to block newly-surfaced mirrors and proxies, for example) are neither slow nor expensive for rightsholders.

The search giant adds that there is no “cogent evidence” to support the theory that extending the site-blocking regime will have an impact on the already-decreasing piracy rate in Australia. It also criticizes proposals to extend blocking to search engines.

“Google also notes that the proposal to extend the Site Blocking Scheme to search engines has not been adopted by any other country in the world. Presumably this is because other countries have long recognized that there is no utility in extending site blocking schemes beyond ISPs to other online service providers,” the company writes.

While Google may be referencing the proposal using precise parameters, Russia recently implemented a similar scheme to prevent permanently blocked sites appearing in results. Currently, Google is not involved in the voluntary program, but that could change in the future.

Much of the remainder of Google’s submission reflects on the company’s own voluntary measures to fight piracy within search results, including its overall takedown regime, Trusted Copyright Removal Program (which allows around 178 partners to submit takedowns directly), proactive takedowns, and site downranking based on the number of copyright notices received.

Importantly, the company also comments that if site-blocking is effective, Australians shouldn’t be able to access pirate sites anyway, since they can be blocked through the existing site-blocking mechanism.

“On that basis, it is entirely unclear how expanding Australia’s existing Site Blocking Scheme to search engines would be of any practical assistance in the fight against piracy. It would however result in additional regulatory burden for new participants and as such would appear to go against the Government’s stated deregulation agenda,” Google adds.

In conclusion, the company says it supports constructive and meaningful attempts to combat piracy but it feels that current legislation is adequate. Of course, there are plenty of rightsholders who disagree, including Village Roadshow, the local movie company that has been most vocal on piracy and its supposed effects on Australian businesses.

“Google say they are up for the fight against piracy. This is a sham,” writes Village Roadshow CEO Graham Burke.

“There [sic] sole interest is using a treasure trove of stolen movies as part of attracting people to a business model that is strengthened by theft. [Google] auto complete and search are used to steal movies. This is no different from stealing a loaf of bread from a 7-11 store.”

The Village Roadshow submission features many of the tried-and-tested arguments the company has used before, stating that pirates pay no tax, steal people’s credit card details, hold their computers to ransom, while advertising illegal gambling, drugs, sex aids and prostitution.”

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