Copyright crackdown: Government introduces website-blocking bill

Site blocking estimated to cost ISPs $130,825 per year

The government has introduced a bill that will allow copyright holders to apply for court orders forcing ISPs to block access to pirate websites.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today introduced the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015.

"Existing copyright law is not adequate to deter a specific type of infringing activity, which is the facilitation of the online infringement of copyright owners' content... by online operators," the minister said, introducing the bill into the lower house.

"There are a number of foreign-based online locations that disseminate large amounts of infringing content to Australian Internet users."

If the bill becomes law rights holders will be able to apply to the Federal Court for an injunction that will force an ISP to block a site.

The new measure would apply only to sites hosted outside of Australia. Turnbull said that there are existing remedy for rights holders in the case of sites hosted in Australia.

An injunction can be granted where the "online location infringes, or facilitates an infringement of" a party's copyright.

The site's "primary purpose" must be "to infringe, or to facilitate the infringement of, copyright".

"That is a significant threshold test which will ensure that the provision can not be used to target online locations that are mainly devoted to a legitimate purpose," Turnbull said.

The bill's wording is likely to capture sites that don't host infringing content themselves but provide links to such content, such as BitTorrent sites.

If the injunction is granted a telco will have to "take reasonable steps to disable access to the online location".

In determining whether to grant the injunction, the court must consider a number of issues including the "flagrancy of the infringement or its facilitation", whether "the owner or operator of the online location demonstrates a disregard for copyright generally", if blocking access is a proportionate response, and the public interest.

The court can limit the duration of the site block or rescind or vary the injunction.

ISPs won't be liable for any costs unless they challenge the block. However, the bill's explanatory memorandum says implementing the law's requirements will incur an annual estimated cost of $130,825.

The site-blocking scheme forms a central pillar of the government's crackdown on online copyright infringement. Critics of the proposal have argued that it could be open to abuse and ineffective. However telco industry body Communications Alliance has previously said such a scheme could play an important role in reducing copyright infringement.

The Comms Alliance has been working on developing a code that implements a warning notice scheme for ISP customers.

That scheme has been another key pillar of the government's copyright enforcement agenda.

The Comms Alliance has been conducting a public consultation on its draft scheme.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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