Piracy crackdown: Rights holders come out swinging for bill targeting search engines

Pro-copyright groups call for new site-blocking bill to be passed in its current form

Groups representing copyright holders and one of the entertainment companies that has spearheaded use of an existing anti-piracy law have strongly backed proposed changes to Australia’s site-blocking regime.

Currently, the site-blocking process in Australia’s Copyright Act allows Federal Court injunctions to be granted that force telcos to block their customers from accessing specified overseas-based online services that engage in or facilitate copyright infringement.

The government has introduced a bill that will expand the system of site-blocking injunctions from ISPs to online service providers, allowing copyright holders and licensees to obtain court orders forcing search engine operators such as Google to remove links to sites that facilitate online piracy.

The bill will also enable rights holders to obtain injunctions against a much wider range of online services such as some online file-hosting services as long as they have the “primary purpose or the primary effect” of infringing, or facilitating the infringement of, copyright (currently the legislation requires that an online location has as its “primary purpose” the infringement, or facilitating the infringement, of copyright).

Other changes outlined in the bill include making it easier to block mirror and proxy sites and reducing the evidentiary burden faced by applicants.

The bill — the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2018 — has received bipartisan support and was passed by the House of Representatives in late October.

The Senate has referred the bill to its Standing Committee on Environment and Communications for scrutiny.

So far Screen Producers Australia, Music Rights Australia, the Australasian Music Publishers' Association Limited (AMPAL) and Village Roadshow have made submissions to the committee’s inquiry, with all four strongly endorsing the proposed legislation.

Village Roadshow has been one of the keenest proponents of site-blocking laws, employing the existing laws to obtain injunctions blocking the customers of major ISPs from accessing hundreds of domains associated piracy.

“Pirates are not charitable and are seriously bad people (suspected links to organised crime),” Village Roadshow CEO Graham Burke wrote in a submission to the Senate inquiry.

The initial site-blocking law meant that the “the front door to piracy has been effectively shut,” but the CEO argued that “search engines have simply redirected people to the back door effectively facilitating crime in the face of an Australian government law.”

The “only people that gain from objecting” to the bill are pirates, search engines (“whose sole interest is using a treasure trove of stolen movies as part of attracting people to a business model that is strengthened by theft”), and “freedom of the Internet advocates”.

“Freedom of the internet is like freedom of the highways and just as it is reasonable to have restrictions for drink driving and speeding, the same is the case with blatant copyright theft,” the CEO wrote.

Roadshow along with Screen Producers Australia, Music Rights Australia, and the Australasian Music Publishers' Association and AMPAL all called for the bill to be passed as currently drafted.

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Tags TelecommunicationspiracyVillage Roadshowsite blocking laws

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