Praise, criticism for government's copyright proposals

Government proposals to strengthen online copyright enforcement have drawn mixed reactions

The federal government today revealed a handful of proposals aimed at quelling Internet piracy in Australia.

A letter to industry stakeholders by Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis said the government will introduce measures including a scheme to force ISPs to block pirate websites in some circumstances and an industry code that will require warnings to be sent to ISP customers who are alleged to have violated copyright.

Communications Alliance welcomes 'balanced approach'

Telco industry body, Communications Alliance, welcomes the government's "balanced approach" said the organisation's CEO, John Stanton.

"Australia’s ISPs do not condone or authorise internet piracy and our industry is willing to contribute strongly to fighting the problem, while ensuring that the rights of customers are fully respected."

Communications Alliance will work on developing the new code that will govern a graduated warning scheme for ISP customers accused of downloading pirated material.

"We will consult with consumer representatives and rights holders as we develop the code and the details of the notice scheme over coming months," Stanton said.

"The Code will not include any sanctions to be imposed by ISPs on their customers – we believe that the copyright holders are the appropriate party to take any enforcement action against persistent infringers. But we are optimistic that the sending of notices by ISPs to consumers whose service has apparently been used for improper file-sharing, will be a powerful signal.

"We hope that the notices, combined with education measures, will convince many 'casual' infringers to change their behaviour."

Stanton said it "makes sense" for rights holders to "reimburse the reasonable expenses" incurred by ISPs from operating the scheme.

The Comms Alliance said that a site-blocking scheme could play "an important role in addressing online copyright infringement in Australia" but would its implementation would require safeguards to prevent abuse.

Ludlam: Government's timeline 'farcical'

The Greens communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, has described the government's deadline of 8 April 2015 for developing an industry code as "farcical".

Read more: Copyright clampdown: Scheme to block pirate websites 'open to abuse'

Turnbull and Brandis have indicated that if rights holders and ISPs are unable to come to an agreement the government will move to implement rules under the Copyright Act or the Telecommunications Act.

"If a voluntary code is not developed, it is not yet clear that the Attorney-General and communications minister are actually able to enforce a mandatory code on the ISP industry under the Copyright or Telecommunications Act, as they claim in their letter to industry today," the statement issued by the senator's office argues.

"Any such terms would be subject, as we saw in the iiNet High Court case, to legal challenge.

"The Greens will not support amendments to the Copyright Act to allow rights holders to apply for a court order requiring ISPs to block access to a website. Such a move would be a defacto Internet filter and would allow rights holders to unilaterally require websites to be blocked.

"This kind of Internet filter would not be effective at all, due to the widespread availability of basic VPN software to evade it.

"The requirement that an industry code contain an avenue for rights holders to request identifying information from ISPs ('facilitated discovery') about alleged pirates has not been tested yet legally in Australia and could lead to masses of individual consumers being sued for tens or thousands of dollars for downloading a single album or film, as we’ve seen in the US."

The main issue that needs to be addressed is the "lack of timely, affordable availability of content in Australia", the statement said.

"The planned entry of Netflix into Australia next year and the development of other online platforms such as HBO's planned offering indicate that the market is working to resolve the copyright infringement problem anyway. The government’s industry code is unnecessary extra regulation and a burden on industry. "

Telstra 'ready to work with rights holders and other ISPs'

Telstra has backed the government's proposals.

"We believe copyright infringement is wrong and more should be done to protect the intellectual property rights of content creators online," said a statement from Telstra's executive director for regulatory affairs, Jane van Beelen

"The government’s response to the serious issue of online copyright infringement provides a balanced legal framework within which all stakeholders can develop a flexible, fair and workable Code to reduce online infringement. It also encourages innovation in the content market, which will enable our customers to identify and access legitimate online services."

"We stand ready to work with rights holders and other ISPs to implement these measures quickly, efficiently and with minimal impact on our customers," van Beelen said.

"We are keen to build on the momentum that exists on this issue with many content providers recently reducing their prices significantly and launching new channels to market.

Choice slams 'Internet filter'

Consumer advocacy group Choice has condemned the government's copyright crackdown.

"Outsourcing the piracy crackdown to industry is far from a soft option, because it carries the potential for serious sanctions against consumers including internet disconnection," the organisation's CEO, Alan Kirkland, said in a statement.

"And it’s far from an effective option, because it ignores the two biggest reasons Australians infringe online copyright — price and availability."

A survey by Choice published yesterday found that price was the most common reason for people who violated copyright. The other two most commonly cited reasons where the timeliness of content being available in Australia (41 per cent) and convenience (28 per cent).

The government's approach will increase the cost of Internet access, make consumers potentially subject to penalties such as Internet disconnection and create an industry-run Internet filter, according to Choice.

"We know that internet filters don't work. This approach has been called ineffective and disproportionate by courts overseas, and it risks raising internet costs for everyone," Kirkland said.

"The federal government claims this is the least burdensome option. We can’t see how regulating the Internet in Australia, introducing a nation-wide notice scheme and an industry-run internet filter isn’t burdensome.

"Australian consumers want to be able to purchase content at a reasonable price, at the same time as the rest of the world. Introducing draconian policies and cutting off internet access is not the way to fix the problem."

Foxtel backs government

Pay TV provider Foxtel has endorsed the government's approach.

"Online piracy represents a huge threat to creative industries in Australia and around the globe," CEO Richard Freudenstein said in a statement.

Foxtel is working to make content available cheaper and more quickly in Australia, the Foxtel CEO said.

"The introduction of legislation will have two main effects. First, it gives us tools to deal with the operators of pirate sites. The people who run pirate sites are criminals who steal content from creators and profit from their theft.

"Secondly, it will allow us to reach out to people who download illegitimate content to educate them that what they are doing is wrong and that there are many legal options they could take. The fact that there will be legislation will itself be an important factor in sending the message that piracy is wrong.

"We look forward to working with the government and other industry participants to develop a workable regime."

Copyright Agency endorses government's approach

Royalties collection organisation, Copyright Agency, has backed the government's copyright enforcement moves, including legislation to introduce a site blocking shceme.

"A conversation around online respect for creators is long overdue," said the organisation's CEO, Murray St Leger.

"A notice scheme might start a conversation around the dining room table about what is the right thing to do for creators. "As author John Birmingham says, 'copyright is a codification of respect for creators.'

"If you respect the work of creators, be they authors, publishers, musicians or film-makers, it is a simple matter of digital etiquette to respect their copyright, which is the way they make their living.

"Now is the time to consider and discuss what being a good digital citizen means."

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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