New Online Piracy Laws: What Australians Need To Know

The federal government has tabled new draft legislation that will further empower rights holders as they try to block and take down sites that either directly distribute or enable access to licensed content. The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2018 expands the scope of existing laws and will result in sections of the internet being blocked in Australia faster. Here’s what you need to know.

Under the proposed amendments. websites with “the primary purpose or the primary effect of infringing, or facilitating an infringement, of copyright” can be blocked by an injunction with the onus put on search engine providers to block such sites from appearing in search engine results.

While the amended laws are unlikely to completely stop sites that either distribute or enable access to licensed content, it should make it harder for such sites to be found, once the rights holders go through the process of gaining an injunction and having the sire either taken down or blocked locally. Given most of these sites are overseas which can make investigations challenging, the new laws “reduce the evidentiary burden on copyright owners” to prove the site is infringing on copyright.

There are some interesting nuances in the laws. For example, in granting injunctions, the courts can consider “percentage of infringing content at the online location compared to the legitimate content”. In other words, one pirated movie shouldn’t give the courts the power to block YouTube.

The aim of the laws is to strengthen the rights of copyright holders so they get the full value from their creation. The current laws are mainly focused on locally-hosted sites but the legislative amendment says “This provides a more effective and efficient alternative to seeking to locate and take direct enforcement action against operators of the overseas online locations”.

The entertainment industry is still grappling with the changes they have faced over the last decade or so as faster, always on internet connections have become ubiquitous and the BitTorrent protocol facilitated the transfer of large files. Coupled with the emergence of streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, they have been under siege as their entire business model has been squeezed.

While it’s easy to paint them as lumbering giants that can’t keep up with smaller and more nimble attackers, the reality is the content production industry relies on income from us buying, renting or accessing content through channels that deliver them revenue. I’m fairly sure no-one here would want their pay check either evaporating after day’s work or going to someone else.

These new laws will make it easier for Australian rights holders to block unlicensed distribution of copyrighted content. And while we can argue (with good reason) that rights holders may need to amend their business model, it’s hard to argue against reducing the channels that distribute their content without permission.


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