Website blocking legislation aimed at curbing Australian's access to online piracy was passed by the senate on June 21.
The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 allows copyright holders to seek a Federal Court injunction to block websites they deem to have copyright infringement as their "primary purpose". The bill passed with bipartisan support and was opposed by Senators Ricky Muir, Glenn Lazarus, David Leyonhjelm and the Greens. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam put a series of amendments to minimise the most drastic elements but these were voted down.
To block a website, copyright holders must convince a Federal Court judge that the websites or "online locations" exist for no other purpose than circumventing the rights of the holder. If successful, Australian internet service providers (ISPs) must then block those sites for their users.
The act has been criticised by academics, civil rights and online privacy activists.
Most of the criticism centres around three main arguments. First, it is a bad way to prevent copyright infringement — discarding the carrot altogether and taking to the stick with both hands. If content providers and distributors spent as much time and energy on finding new and better ways to distribute their content quickly and easily as they do fighting against copyright infringement, many users would have little need to engage in it in the first place.
Second, it is likely to be ineffective. Most savvy users are going to find a way to bypass the blocking anyway. Already the technology exists to bypass such online "filters", as with virtual private networks. Recent history has shown that file sharers are much quicker at adapting to new methods and technologies than content producers.
Third, this is clearly targeted at sites such as Pirate Bay, but it is broad enough to apply to sites such as Wikileaks, particularly as government information is protected by copyright. This, along with the data retention laws, is just another piece of onerous legislation for ISPs, making them and in turn users, pay for the government’s control and surveillance of the internet.
Overall it sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of the internet in Australia, particularly when the Abbott government has already demonstrated that it has plenty it wishes to keep hidden from the Australian people in relation to asylum seekers, and is willing to bypass judicial process when it sees fit, such as removing the citizenship of dual nationals without due process.
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