Anti-piracy bill could block foreign sites

Anti-piracy bill could block foreign sites

Australians could be blocked from overseas sites with illegal content after legislation was passed to allow rights holders to legally deny access.

New piracy laws mean it could soon be harder for Australians to illegally download their favourite shows and music.

Legislation to allow rights holders to seek a court injunction to force internet service providers to block access to overseas websites that facilitate piracy passed the Senate on Monday.

Foreign sites that allow illegal downloads of TV shows, movies or music will be shut off to Australians. The laws, which were backed by Labor, will not cover locally hosted sites.

The federal government believes the laws will protect the viability and success of creative industries while restricting the profitability of sites that facilitate piracy.

"Australians love creative content," government frontbencher Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told the Senate.

"They need to be reminded that if they take too much without giving back, they will jeopardise the content that they love."

The Australian Greens failed to amend the legislation to tighten the threshold for a site to be deemed a facilitator of illegal downloading and explicitly exclude virtual private networks (VPNs).

"We are trying to minimise the risk of collateral damage," Greens senator Scott Ludlam said.

The government says VPNs - where, for example, Australian Netflix users hide their location to access the American site - will not be targeted.

Crossbench senators David Leyonhjelm, Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus joined the Greens in opposing the bill.

Senator Leyonhjelm criticised the legislation as "vaguely drafted" and unlikely to achieve its aims. He also warned injunctions could be used against legitimate sites.

"Website blocking is a drastic remedy and a blunt tool," Senator Leyonhjelm told the upper house.

When granting an injunction, the Federal Court must consider the seriousness of the infringement, whether blocking access is appropriate or in the public interest, and the impact on people likely to be affected.

Following recommendations from a parliamentary committee, the government agreed to review the laws after 18 months and require a landing page to be pasted on blocked sites to notify users of the court order.

Foxtel congratulated the government and Labor for recognising piracy as theft and acknowledging the harm it causes Australian businesses.

"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," chief executive Richard Freudenstein said in a statement.

Mr Freudenstein said the laws were modelled on similar legislation in places like the United Kingdom and rejected claims they would prevent legitimate uses of the internet.

Meanwhile, Mark Vincent, an IP lawyer at Shelston IP, said on Tuesday that amendments to the Copyright Act to curbs online privacy not only won't work, they run the very real risk of blocking websites for legitimate businesses.

Vincent said it's a band aid solution that pirates will get around a flash as Pirate Bay has proven numerous times in Europe when faced with the same blocking laws.

"This is a very real threat to legitimate business such as online file storage platforms like Dropbox that can be used to store and share illegally downloaded content but are also used for saving and sharing legal business and consumer files," he said.

Vincent also claimed that the laws also threaten VPNs that are used by businesses to create 'tunnels of communication' for business use between countries.

"If VPNs are used to access content in another country – for example US Netflix, will all VPNs disappear?" he said.

"VPNs have also been used for encrypted communications that has seen political dissidents get information to media in countries where social media has been shut down – will freedom of speech disappear?"

According to Vincent, the real solution to cutting piracy is in commercial distribution models where content is provided in a legal, timely and affordable way.

Additional reporting by Byron Connolly.

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Tags senateanti-piracyDavid LeyonhjelmRicky Muirwebsite piracyvpnScott Ludlamillegal downloadsGlenn Lazarusvirtual private networks

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