Australia Passes Contentious Online Infringement Bill

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Australia’s Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 215 passed through the Senate and into law on Monday night. Bill 215 allows rights holders to request in federal court that a copyright infringing website hosted overseas be blocked.

Once rights’ holders obtain a court order, Australian Internet service providers are responsible for blocking the offending website. Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein praised the bill, comparing it to measures he says have been successful in the UK, Europe, and Singapore.

“These offshore sites are not operated by noble spirits fighting for the freedom of the Internet, they are run by criminals who profit from stealing other people’s creative endeavours,” Freudenstein said.

UK ISPs have been blocking sites since a High Court ruling in fall of 2014, with debatable success due to proxies and domain changes. The UK also has a program partnering rights holder group Creative Content UK with ISPs to send notifications to consumers who violate copyright.

The news is considered less positive by others, however. ANU College of Law associate professor Dr. Matthew Rimmer called the bill “quite radical,” the Sydney Morning Herald reports, and expressed concern with the bill’s vague terminology.

“What is ‘primary purpose’? There’s no definition. What is ‘facilitation’? Again, there’s no definition,” Rimmer said, adding that services like Dropbox could be included through no fault of their own, as well as whistleblower sites like WikiLeaks.

Overly broad language was identified by opponents as a problem with the bill when it was introduced in April. The Australian government had warned ISPs in December that they would soon have greater responsibilities in copyright protection, and urged them to participate in the process.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) accidentally blocked 250,000 websites in 2013 while trying to block two foreign sites.

The bill passed through the Australian Senate with a 37-13 vote, supported by the Coalition (or LNC) and Labor Parties. The government has said it will review the law’s effectiveness in 18 months.

Google began sending copyright infringement notices to Fiber customers in the US in May, but ISPs are not held responsible for identifying or blocking sites in the US, and most other countries.

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