Attorney-General seeks public input on anti-piracy law changes

Public version of secret discussion paper on copyright law changes circulated

Attorney-General George Brandis and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull have opened a public consultation on changes to the enforcement of copyright law.

The Attorney-General's Department today released an issues paper (PDF) that proposes major changes to copyright law, including a process whereby rights holders can apply for court orders that would force ISPs to block access to websites.

A version of the discussion paper was last week leaked by Crikey.

The paper contains three proposals to clamp down on copyright violations. It cites the outcome of the iiNet trial — in which the Internet service provider was found to not be liable for copyright violations by its customers — as indicating that Australia's copyright regime needs reform.

The first proposal is the extension of liability for copyright violations .

"The Government believes that even where an ISP does not have a direct power to prevent a person from doing a particular infringing act, there may still be reasonable steps that can be taken by the ISP to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement," the discussion paper states.

"Extending authorisation liability is essential to ensuring the existence of an effective legal framework that encourages industry cooperation and functions as originally intended, and is consistent with Australia's international obligations."

The second proposal is to allow rights holders to obtain court injunctions that would force an ISP to block access to particular websites.

"Where online copyright infringement is occurring on a commercial scale, rights holders need an efficient mechanism to disrupt business models operated outside of Australia," the paper states.

The third proposal in the paper would extend the application of the safe harbour scheme.

"The Copyright Act would be amended to extend the application of the safe harbour scheme to entities engaged in the activities set out in sections 116AC to 116AF," the paper states.

"This would be achieved by removing the reference to carriage service provider and replacing it with a definition of 'service provider', being any person who engages in activities defined in sections 116AC to 116AF."

The discussion paper was last week described as " wish list" for rights holders by intellectual property expert Dr Matthew Rimmer.

The leaked version of the paper called for submissions to be made by 25 August. The public discussion paper extends that deadline to 1 September.

Communications Alliance, an industry body for telcos and ISPs, welcomed the release of the paper. However, the organisation's CEO, John Stanton, said in a statement that its members "do not share the view in the discussion paper that the High Court’s decision in Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Ltd (April 2012) undermines Australia’s international obligations, nor that there is any obligation in Australia’s free trade agreements that means the Copyright Act must be amended to extend authorisation liability."

Stanton said that the expansion of authorisation liability in the Copyright Act "has the potential to capture many other entities, including schools, universities, libraries and cloud-based services in ways that may hamper their legitimate activities and disadvantage consumers"

The Comms Alliance is calling for "a holistic end-to-end approach, supported by Government, rights holders, ISPs and consumers" and other measures such as better access to content for consumers, legal protection for ISPs, and independent oversight for a copyright enforcement regime.

Consumer advocacy group Choice has criticised anti-piracy proposals contained in the discussion paper as likely to be ineffective and failing to deal with the root causes of unauthorised downloading of content.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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