Federal government clamps down on Internet piracy

Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull flags new measures enabling consumers to make “informed choices” about sharing online content.

Clampdown on Internet piracy

Clampdown on Internet piracy

Under moves to tackle online piracy or potential copyright infringement, Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Attorney-General George Brandis, have alerted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to tighter controls around access and sharing arrangements.

A joint statement by Minister Turnbull and Attorney-General Brandis requires ISPs to develop an industry code that alerts consumers to potential copyright breaches. This code will need to be registered with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) under the Telecommunications Act 1997.

A new industry-developed code will require ISPs, both domestic and overseas, to alert consumers to potential copyright breaches and offer more clarify about access to “legitimate content." These measures are highlighted under the downloading of content reforms.

The industry has until April 2015 to develop and lay the groundwork for this new code. Failing agreement within 120 days, the administration says it will “impose binding arrangements either by an industry code prescribed by the Attorney-General under the Copyright Act 1968 or an industry standard prescribed by the ACMA, at the direction of the Minister for Communications under the Telecommunications Act.”

Moreover, broader amendments are planned to Australia’s copyright laws enabling the administration to block overseas websites that may host “pirated” content potentially sourced from the original owners of copyright material.

Legal ramifications

Online content owners affected by any unauthorised access may seek a court order under Australian jurisdiction. New measures are expected to be introduced in early 2015 once the fine-print is clarified into the New Year.

The Australian government says that online copyright protection offers an essential mechanism to ensure the viability and success of the creative industries, especially the developers of local content. Better piracy checks incentivise and reward the creators of content in an open, online environment.

The rapid growth of the Internet has brought significant challenges to the protection of copyright, due to the ease with which material can be digitally copied and shared, at little or no cost, note officials.

“The government has sought the least burdensome and most flexible way of responding to concerns about online copyright infringement, while protecting the legitimate interests of the rights holders in the protection of their intellectual property.”

Officials say that they expect “strong collaboration between rights holders, internet service providers and consumers on this issue.”

In a world of rapid changes in technology and human behaviour, there is no single measure that can eliminate online copyright infringement. “In light of this the government will review the measures, 18 months after they are implemented, to assess their effectiveness.”

Concerns around affordability and access to legitimate content are key factors driving Australia’s online copyright infringement reforms. The administration has welcomed recent action by content owners and says it expects the industry to continue responding to changing dynamics in a digital market.

The online piracy reforms follow on from widespread consultation with industry and consumer groups. Submissions to the government’s “Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper” are being assessed in the lead-up to proposed changes.

Across the divide

Across the divide, the Opposition has questioned the latest announcement, warning that the Abbott government does not understand the Internet or its users. In a reported statement, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare said that Canberra is passing the buck to the industry.

Site-blocking is unlikely to be an effective strategy to deal with online piracy. Pirated content may reappear just as quickly as this is taken down, the Opposition said.

Canberra’s anti-piracy move is seen as a "threat to free speech" by the Institute of Public Affairs. The IPA's Senior Fellow Chris Berg noted that moves to block sites may backfire due to a lack of technical knowledge.

He added that "hundreds of thousands of websites" have been accidentally blocked, for example, by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission. "This is nothing more than an internet filter, of the sort which the Coalition proudly opposed when it was proposed by the Rudd and Gillard governments," Berg said.

Follow Shahida Sweeney on Twitter: @ShahidaSweeney

Tags Attorney-General George BrandisAustralian Securities and Investment CommissionInstitute of Public Affairs (IPA)online piracyMalcolm TurnbullAustralian Communications and Media AuthorityInternet service providers

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