Is It Legal To Access ISP-Blocked Websites?

Court orders Australian ISPs to block torrent websites because, piracyImage: iStock

Last week, the Federal Court of Australia ordered internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to five major torrent websites. This was a result of court action taken by rights holders Foxtel and Village Roadshow in their desperate fight against piracy. But here's the thing: it's incredibly easy to bypass any site-blocking implemented by ISPs. So is it legal for Australians to access the blocked websites locally? Let's find out.

Federal Court ordered Australian ISPs to block The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt and SolarMovie under Section 115A of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). An amendment introduced to the Copyright Act last year allows copyright holders to apply for an injunction against a carriage service provider (in this case, ISPs) to block access to websites that are mainly used for pirating TV shows and movies.

It's worth pointing out that torrenting itself is perfectly legal. In fact, some open source software and Linux distros are distributed through torrents. But is it legal to access websites that have been blocked by this Federal Court injunction?

See Also: How To Bypass ISP Blocking Of The Pirate Bay And Other Torrent Sites For Free

Oliver Smith, intellectual property and technology lawyer at law firm Bird & Bird, told Lifehacker Australia:

In short: it is legal to access (that is, visit) an ISP-blocked website. There are no Australian laws that currently prevent an individual from accessing a website purely on the basis that the website is blocked by an internet service provider or ISP.

"Similarly, the mere use of a VPN or similar to access an ISP-blocked website is not illegal – it is what you do when you are on the website that could be illegal (such as downloading or streaming copyright-protected content without paying for it).

A lot of workplaces let their employees connect to the corporate network securely while working remotely. VPNs are also used by consumers who would like to keep their online activities private.

Smith used the analogy of driving a car to a bank for a robbery:

The act of driving the car to the bank is not illegal (assuming of course you are licensed and are not speeding or running red lights). Robbing the bank is the part that is illegal.

Does This Have Anything To Do With The ACMA 'Blacklist'?

Just to provide some clarity, the Federal Court's injunction to block the torrent sites are separate to "blacklisted" content in Australia.

Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth), the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has the power to order the removal of illegal and prohibited content that is hosted within Australia. This can include "child abuse material, content that advocates the doing of terrorist act and content that promotes or incites crimes or violence as illegal".

The ACMA has less power when it comes to content that is hosted overseas but it does maintain a "blacklist" of websites that have been known to carry illegal and prohibited material. The ACMA can't exactly mandate the blocking of those websites but does provide the blacklist to ISPs. Customers can then opt into using an internet filter to avoid accessing those sites.

In 2009, the Federal Government wanted the ACMA to create a secretive restricted content list as part of plans to implement a mandatory internet filter for "illegal" content. But those plans were scraped after widespread backlash from the public as it was perceived as internet censorship; there were fears that the restricted content list could grow to encompass non-illegal material.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.



Comments

    Well.. That was a great use of public funds.

      Isn't it paid for by rights holders?

        It is. $50 per website, to each Internet Service Provider. To block them all would cost Rights Holder's a fortune.

        It is. $50 per website, to each Internet Service Provider. To block them all would cost Rights Holder's a fortune.

    I think the lawyer needs to look up what copyright is all about. It is not illegal in the face of the law but to the owner of the content to prove loss due to copying.

      I am not sure you understand what copyright is yourself.

      It is the right of an artist to control their work as they wish.

      This argument that there is no loss, or that loss needs to be proven is nonsensical and a bit too American in flavour.

        @#jayd

        I am not sure you understand what copyright is yourself.

        It is the right of an artist to control their work as they wish.

        ##

        Small ammendment:

        It is the right of the copyright holder to control their work as they wish.

        :)

        I mean, anthonyp69 is pretty much on point.

        Copyright Infringements aren't Criminal, they're Civil cases; as much as Copyright Holders wish it would be Criminal. All that Copyright Holders can do is try to track Copyright Infringers, prove they have Infringed on the Copyright and sue them through Civil cases.

    cool, so when are these websites gonna be blocked anyhow

      For me, never. They'll use DNS blocking and I already use 8.8.8.8 & 8.8.4.4 (Google DNS servers). Also won't affect people with small ISPs.

    So how long before it's mandatory for an ISP to intercept all DNS traffic and route it to their own DNS? I mean the government has a track record of legislating such awesome technological interventions.

      It would still be very easy to circumvent if the ISP implemented a transparent DNS proxy through the use of a VPN, or if you want a free solution, something like DNSCrypt.

    I agree with those who said that this is an excellent use of public funds.

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