The government’s metadata regime will open the door to more copyright prosecutions, rather than just focusing on police investigations and terrorism, according to the Australian Greens.
The warning comes in the wake of the Federal Court’s decision to grant Dallas Buyers Club LLC access to personal details of internet users who accessed their film over file-sharing networks.
The Greens claim the government’s metadata regime would make it easier for companies to embark on speculative invoicing attacks against Australians suspected of downloading movies in breach of copyright.
“Copyright laws exist for a reason and they should not be infringed upon," said Senator Scott Ludlam.
“However, there are broader concerns for those Australians who face being targeted by trawling missions from overseas companies, using information that was collected under the guise of national security.
“Handing over information for copyright infringement is very different to storing it as part of police or terrorism investigations,” added Ludlam.
“Now that the Government has mandated that mass metadata storage be undertaken, they need to establish clear rules and transparency around the ways in which this information could be used to target people suspected of torrenting a film.”
Victory for Dallas Buyers Club
Internet providers including iiNet, Internode, Dodo, Amnet Broadband, Adam Internet and Wideband Networks yesterday lost a Federal Court battle to keep secret the names of internet users who allegedly downloaded the Hollywood blockbuster.
Justice Nye Perram ruled that a discovery order lodged by Dallas Buyers Club LLC should be granted so the firm could recover compensation, under the condition that the court may examine any letters due to be sent to alleged downloaders, noting that "there should be orders maintaining the privacy" of consumers.
iiNet said the ruling was a “positive result” that will ensure no Australians contacted by DBC LLC or its parent company, Voltage Pictures, will be subject to speculative invoicing, as seen in other countries.
“The result is pleasingly what we expected,” said iiNet CEO David Buckingham.
“By going through the process, we’ve been able to ensure that our customers will be treated fairly and won’t be subjected to the bullying that we have seen happen elsewhere.
"The ruling will put a major dent in the process and business case behind speculative invoicing, since the financial returns could be outweighed by the costs of legal action," said Buckingham.
Lawyers representing iiNet and the other ISPs argued during proceedings that the impending introduction of an industry copyright code, the draft of which includes a mechanism for expedited preliminary discovery, rendered the whole court process moot.
The draft code sets out a series of warning letters that will be sent to ISP customers accused of violating copyright.
Last month, communications minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015M which, if passed, allows rights holders to apply to the Federal Court for an injunction that will force an ISP to block websites associated with copyright infringement.
"Existing copyright law is not adequate to deter a specific type of infringing activity, which is the facilitation of the online infringement of copyright owners' content... by online operators," Turnbull said while introducing the bill into the lower house.
"There are a number of foreign-based online locations that disseminate large amounts of infringing content to Australian Internet users."
The new measure would apply only to sites hosted outside of Australia, as there are existing remedy for rights holders in the case of sites hosted in Australia.
The Internet Society of Australia and industry group Communications Alliance urged caution on the anti-piracy scheme, which the government has estimated will cost ISPs $130,825 per year to comply with.
"We have given conditional support for this initiative but have cautioned that website blocking is a relatively blunt tool, with risks of 'collateral damage' if not applied with precision," said Comms Alliance CEO, John Stanton.