Site blocking 'unlikely to be an effective' in piracy fight: Labor

Jason Clare says government has "passed the buck" on online copyright enforcement

Labor's communications spokesperson, Jason Clare, claims the anti-piracy measures announced yesterday by the government have "passed the buck back to industry".

There are two main pillars to the government's plan. One is to push the development by ISPs and rights of an industry code under which ISP customers accused of copyright violations will be sent notices.

The code will include a means for rights holders to discover the identity of alleged pirates to potentially take them to court after an agreed number of notices.

The second pillar is the introduction of legislation that will allow rights holders to apply for court orders that will force ISPs to block their customers' access to sites associated with online piracy.

"The Government's only concrete decision is to introduce legislation providing for overseas websites facilitating copyright infringement to be blocked in Australia by court order," reads a statement issued by Clare yesterday evening.

"Site-blocking is unlikely to be an effective strategy for dealing with online piracy. Pirated content is likely to reappear as quickly as it can be taken down."

Clare did not indicate whether Labor would oppose the legislation.

Clare's statement said that the proposals unveiled yesterday by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis failed to address issues raised in a government discussion paper published earlier this year.

"Any crackdown on the infringement of copyright needs to be accompanied by changes to make copyright law fairer, clearer, and more in keeping with public expectations," Clare's statement said.

Read more: Praise, criticism for government's copyright proposals

"The Government should look after the interests of consumers."

Clare cited the absence of the expansion of the copyright safe harbour scheme as a flaw in the government's proposed reforms.

The government's discussion paper had canvassed the possible expansion of the scheme from "carriage service providers" to "service providers" to include entities such as search engines and universities that provide Internet access to their students but not to the public.

An FAQ published by Turnbull states an extension of the safe harbour scheme "is related to broader issues than just online copyright" and "will not be pursued at this time".

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

"The Government expects that schools, libraries, search engines and wifi providers will continue to take steps to reduce online copyright infringement on their systems," Turnbull's document states.

Clare said that the federal government had failed to respond to Australian Law Reform Commission recommendations on updates to copyright law, including creating a fair use exception in Australian law.

The Greens have also criticised the government's proposals. The party's communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, yesterday issued a statement describing as "farcical" the government's timeline for ISPs and rights holders to develop an industry code.

The government has indicated that if agreement is not reached by 8 April 2015, it will step in and create a mandatory code.

Ludlam also condemned the site-blocking proposals as form of "Internet filter".

"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," Ludlam's statement said.

"Such a move would be a defacto Internet filter and would allow rights holders to unilaterally require websites to be blocked."

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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