Censorship Reaches a New Height in Australia

Michael Policy

Australia, this week, was able to pass internet restrictions that not even the UK or the US has been able to enact. No, no, This bill is more along the lines of censorship-rich countries like Turkey, Syria, Russia, Singapore, and China.

This came in the form of a bill known as the Copyright Amendment Act 2015. This bill is aimed at protecting the owners of copyrights. It was passed as an attempt to curtail the distribution of movies, shows, music, and other forms of entertainment from being passed around on the internet, taking away from profits of the creators.

This law gives copyrights’ holders the power to obtain court orders that force Internet Service Providers (ISP) to block websites that have the primary purpose to facilitate infringement.

It passed with bipartisan support 37-13 in the Parliament. With a small, but vocal group, expressing concern over the bill.

More Holes Than Swiss Cheese

I’m all for protecting rights: although I’m sure the large corporations that benefit from this would get along just fine without it. The problem is in the politics. The bill is loosely worded and has loopholes that pave the way for abuse and rampant censorship.

But that seems to kind of have been the goal. Several amendments proposed by the Australian Greens that would have safeguarded against abuse were shot down.

The Australian Greens Party is comparable to the left wing in America: fighting for renewable energy, banning wild or domesticated animals in circuses, ending the defense treaty with the US, support for same sex marriage, and abortion rights to name a few.

The one amendment that was able to pass will force the government to review the implementation of a fair use exemption in the law.

Some of the shortfalls of the bill include not defining ‘primary purpose’ or ‘facilitate’. The fear is that legitimate data sharing websites that have just a few bad apples would be blocked completely (mega.co.nz and dropbox.com) Senator David Leyonhjelm had this to say:

Website blocking is a drastic remedy and a blunt tool. The bill has the potential to be used against a range of legitimate sites and has inadequate protections for non-party interests. Meanwhile, placing increased emphasis on enforcement without addressing the other overdue reforms of the Copyright Act risks a ridiculously unbalanced copyright regime.

Because of the loose vernacular, the bill may be able to be used against Virtual Private Networks (VPN). If a copyright holder can prove in court that its ‘primary purpose’ is to allow users to access copyrighted material.

There will be little opposition to fight the blocking of websites in court because the ISPs will not have to pay for court costs as long as they don’t oppose the infringement claim.

And that too, seems to somewhat have been the goal as Senator David Coleman foreshadows:

I concur with others in this debate in saying that I think the way that this will play out is that in the early days you will probably see a number of court actions initiated. You will see some court orders issued for take-down notices for infringing material. But then what will happen, logically, over time, is that ISPs and content providers will work together in a sensible way. No doubt they will circumvent much of that court formality and work together in a constructive fashion to take down offending material, and that is as it should be.

Leaving corporations in charge of censorship does not seem like a good plan.

But Not the Porn

Yes, sadly, porn in Australia is threatened by this bill. Censoring porn has been in the crosshairs of some Australian politicians for a while. Federal Communications Minister Stephen introduced a porn-filtering bill several years ago that would have forced the ISPs to block sites. He even rejected a proposed opt-out system so that people could ask politely for their porn.

At that time, lobbyists were also clamoring to include blocking online piracy and gambling in the bill. Fortunately, that bill didn’t make it through Parliament.

However, two months before this copyright infringement bill passed, lobbyists were already calling for it to extend to the censorship of porn as well. Talk about playing both sides of the coin.

It seems that sites like youporn.com have a large library of porn pulled from other for-pay sites. Although their relationship is not cut and dry, this may be a basis to block the sites. Also, copyrighted music is commonly used in porn without consent. With this bill now in place this may be the perfect way to go after porn.

It’s safe to assume at this point that anything is free game. As the Sydney Morning Herald puts it:

You can be sure that every lobby group in Australia which wants something banned is sitting around brainstorming ideas on how to turn the new anti-piracy rules to their advantage. Rather than looking for loopholes, the ACL will more likely just bide its time and wait for the government to declare the anti-piracy laws a success.

They Aren’t Bluffing

They really aren’t, censorship and internet privacy has been in a downward spiral for a while; as this article from Cnet.com shows.

In 2013 the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) blocked 250,000 benign websites after misinterpreting a 15 year old law in the Telecommunications Act.

The ASIC claimed this was inadvertent. They told ISPs to block the IP address, instead of the actual domain name. After the blockage caused an uproar they were forced to admit that only 1000 of the blocked sites were actually active.  This came after an already reported 1200 websites were also inadvertently blocked because of the same mistake.

Simple ‘oversights’ like this could lead to a world of trouble with this new bill.

In Time

Only time will tell how this new bill plays out, the future is uncertain. The people of Australia, like all countries, must remain vigilant in the future and remember that it is they who the government works for.

feature image courtesy of CherryX via flickr


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