Several major music labels are seeking to block Australians from accessing piracy website Kickass Torrents in the latest use of website-blocking legislation introduced last year. If the music bigwigs get their way, Telstra, Optus, TPG and other providers would be forced to block access to the piracy facilitating website. Here’s what you need to know.
A consortium of Australian Recording Industry Association members including the Australian arms of major labels Universal, Warner and Sony, as well as local label J. Albert & Son, filed for an injunction in the Federal Court to have Kickass and “related proxy sites” blocked in Australia under the Copyright Act.
“Online infringement continues to be a major threat to the sustainability of the Australian music industry,” said Jenny Morris OAM, chair of the Australasian Performing Right Association.
“Illegal offshore sites like Kickass Torrents show a complete disrespect for music creators and the value of music.”
Under the legislation, passed in June, rights holders can apply to the Federal Court to force internet service providers to block access to certain websites if their “primary purpose” is deemed “to infringe, or to facilitate the infringement of, copyright”.
The ARIA members have named Australia’s biggest telcos Telstra, Optus and TPG and subsidiaries, which include iiNet and Virgin Mobile, in the application.
Like The Pirate Bay, Kickass Torrents is what’s known as a “torrent tracker”. It works like a search engine, where users can search and find files such as movies or music hosted on other people’s computers, and then share them directly using a peer-to-peer protocol known as torrenting.
In February, a consortium of major film studios led by Village Roadshow Australia was the first to file for an injunction under the Copyright Act amendments. Foxtel has instigated a separate action. Together they are seeking to block various other sites deemed to flagrantly facilitate copyright infringement, including The Pirate Bay and SolarMovie.
ISPs have yet to confirm how they would go about blocking the sites. Previous attempts by government departments to block sites have backfired massively. In 2013, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission inadvertently blocked access to a quarter of a million websites when it instructed ISPs to block a particular IP address.
Although we haven’t seen an example yet, it’s likely users will be shown a page informing them of the court ruling when they try to access a blacklisted site.
Critics of the legislation have argued that Australians will still be able to access targeted sites if they use a virtual private network, which hides a user’s destination from their ISP. Sites like The Pirate Bay have also evaded website blocking by constantly changing their IP addresses, and keeping their users in the loop on social media.
And, of course, customers of smaller, independent ISPs not specifically mentioned in an injunction would still be able to access a targeted website.
“We know from international experience that site blocking does not work,” said Laurie Patton, chief executive of Internet Australia, which represents internet users.
“It’s called whack-a-mole: you close down one site and it reopens somewhere else, either at a different IP address or with a different name.”
However rights holders argue that blocking easy access for the general public to copyright infringing sites is enough of a deterrent to reduce piracy.
Mr Patton warned site-blocking methods could slow down internet speeds and result in higher access costs for consumers due to administration costs.
Hearings for the Foxtel and Village Roadshow applications are scheduled in May, while the music labels’ application is due to be heard in June.