Australia Considers New Copyright Law That Could Be Interpreted To Ban VPNs

from the very-probably-nixed dept

Some months back, our own Glyn Moody wrote about the music industry in Australia and its attempt to basically broadly multiply copyright protections, routing around the public’s representatives in government to get ISPs to act as judge, jury and executioner. Then, because Glyn Moody is a witch who turned my sister into a newt, he wondered aloud whether VPNs would be the next target in the copyright industry’s crosshairs.

Well, it turns out that yes, yes they are. Only this time, the industry lobbyists are going right to the Australian legislature to act as their bullies with the Copyright Amendment Bill 2015.

If it is passed, copyright owners would be able to apply for a federal court order requiring internet service providers to block overseas sites whose primary purpose is infringing copyright or facilitating the infringement of copyright. While the bill is designed to target BitTorrent sites, such as the Pirate Bay, there are concerns other online services such as VPNs and digital storage lockers could fall victim.

The campaigns manager for Choice, Erin Turner, says at least 684,000 Australian households currently employ VPNs to bypass geoblocks and access overseas content at globally competitive prices.

No need to go half way here: if the bill is written and passed in its current vague iteration, VPNs and storage lockers absolutely will be under attack. Entertainment companies both foreign and domestic have been complaining for years about Australians using VPNs to route around geo-restrictions and get overseas content and it would be silly to pretend like infringers don’t use VPNs to conceal themselves. All that said, there are a ton of legitimate reasons to use a VPN or storage locker. That’s why crafting industry-specific legislation like this is so tricky, particularly when the target of the law is a widely used product of platform. There are simply going to be consequences that the public would consider unintended and that I consider specifically intended in the vagueness of the law. Copyright protection advocates always want more, never less, and they aren’t exactly known for behaving reservedly when they feel they have tools at their disposal.

The enemy here is ambiguity.

Copyright expert Kimberlee Weatherall says it is difficult to predict if the bill will be used by copyright holders to argue for an injunction against a VPN service because it lacks clarity regarding services and sites whose primary purpose is not copyright infringement, although may be being used for that purpose.

Which means that the law cannot be allowed to pass as it is currently written. Legislation doesn’t necessarily have to be specifically proscriptive, but a lack of clarity on a technology service so common and so tangential to the chief target of the bill means the bill sucks. Hell, it’s not like I’m making this concern up, even. Already content providers are arguing for tightened screws on Aussie VPNs.

Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder managing director Nick Murray told Mumbrella the current arrangements are only benefitting international players like Netflix because under the current production deals content is sold by territories.

Asked if it should be illegal for Australians to access overseas platforms using a VPN he said: “It should be. It should absolutely be regulated somehow to make it so people in Australia shouldn’t use VPNs.”Murray defended the arrangement of selling content by territory saying “that’s how we get our money” adding: “The people people who say we should get rid of the geo-blocker, it’s just bizarre, as that is how content is sold.”

Yes, arguing that something should change is bizarre because that thing hasn’t changed yet. Great argument you have there. But we can at least give Murray credit for being blatantly open and honest about his desire to take technology tools away from Australian citizens.

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Comments on “Australia Considers New Copyright Law That Could Be Interpreted To Ban VPNs”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Global for us, but not for you

The campaigns manager for Choice, Erin Turner, says at least 684,000 Australian households currently employ VPNs to bypass geoblocks and access overseas content at globally competitive prices.

People are paying, even paying more for VPN’s, and they’re throwing a fit because it allows people to purchase content in a manner that removes their stranglehold on it. It removes their ability to price Content X at one rate in one country, and another rate in another country, based upon how much the one who’s paying to offer it are willing to shell out.

If people can get content from other countries, should the price be cheaper from a service there, then that drastically decreases the value of the content, and the ones buying the broadcast rights for it are not going to be willing to pay nearly the same rates as a result. That is what they’re throwing a fit over, the fact that a global market means it’s much harder to hold a monopoly, and they don’t have nearly a strong a bargaining position as a result, leading to decreased profits.

Of course, when it comes to costs, whether production or otherwise, you can be sure they quite enjoy the global market, and how it allows them to decrease how much they have to pay, because if one country isn’t willing to price competitively, they can always look elsewhere. They just don’t want the consumers to enjoy the same advantage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wait a sec...

So they want to block bittorrent sites and file lockers to stop people from accessing the content without paying for it… Yes. I get that. Stupid game of whack-a-mole that won’t work, but hey, there are laws about infringement etc…

But now they want to also block people from paying for the content? Ok, so it is geoblocked content, but then I ask: and which laws make that possible? Are there international laws in place that say that I cannot purchase a book in the US and take it home to Australia? Or a CD? And why should there be restrictions on the digital markets?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Wait a sec...

The way I understand it, the right of first sale applies to physical content but not digital. That is, once you buy a physical book, you can do whatever you want with it without violating other laws (e.g. changing the cover and selling it as your own work, or importing into a country where the book is banned).

But, even if you’ve supposedly “bought” a digital copy, it’s treated as a licence and the licencees have to obey the terms of that licence. This might mean that they are unable to send you a copy of the file if you’re in another country, even if the same retailer would have no problem sending you the physical copy.

“And why should there be restrictions on the digital markets?”

As mentioned in the article – “that’s how we get our money”. It’s in their interests to restrict you so that you pay what they want, when they want – and anything that allows them to stop you from accessing superior service elsewhere is fine with them. They’ve built a business model around realities that no longer exist, so they need to construct artificial barriers to stop you from getting a good deal that might lose them some revenue.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wait a sec...

But, even if you’ve supposedly “bought” a digital copy, it’s treated as a licence and the licencees have to obey the terms of that licence.

The subtle difference is that you never actually “buy” the digital version, you ONLY purchase a license to use it. It feels like you bought something because you selected it and they took your money, but you actually only purchased a license.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wait a sec...

So it would it be ok to:
– travel to the US
– buy a digital copy and download that copy onto my computer
– travel back
– watch the movie at home?

But not to:
– stay at home
– log into a VPN that exits in the US
– buy a digital copy and download that copy onto my computer
– watch the movie at home?

Yet, the end result is 100% the same: digital copy, bought in the US, viewable at home…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait a sec...

“viewable at home”

Unless the DRM it’s infected with requires you to “phone home” and confirm your location, of course. I’ve had this idiotic situation myself – I’ve bought a disc from the UK or been sent one as a gift, when I return to Spain the digital copy “included” is suddenly invalid – no refund offered of course for the digital copy I’ve paid for. Bear in mind that the EU is supposed to be a free market with free trade across borders. Then they wonder why I don’t buy major studio content any more (I almost exclusively buy from boutique labels like Arrow now).

Let’s not forget the real endgame here – retaining artificial locks on local markets, then charging what they want with no consumer choice. Their business model is not set up to understand the realities of how things actually work, where people communicate across borders, travel for business or pleasure or emigrate temporarily or permanently. It’s certainly not set up to understand that location is irrelevant on a technological level for trading digital content. They’ve set the business up based on the idea that country A can be made to pay $X more than country B for an inferior service, so they’re now dependent on preventing country A from accessing the better prices and services.

But, of course, it’s the tech industry who are in the wrong and their customers evil pirates once they find a way around these utterly artificial blocks.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Wait a sec...

Your confusion is caused by thinking that their objection to piracy is the (potential) loss of profits, when this is very much not the case. Loss of potential profits is a factor to be sure, but not the main one, not the important one(to them).

Rather, as their objections to people paying for their content via VPNs makes clear, their main objection is the loss of control, which in turn often leads to the loss of profits. If they can’t dictate price due to having a local monopoly on the content, because people can get the same content cheaper elsewhere, then that drastically cuts down on the control they have, which is something they just can’t stand.

If you frame their objections as a loss of control, rather than a loss of profits, then the fact that they see no difference between someone pirating a work, and someone paying for it via a VPN makes perfect sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So what, the MPAA/RIAA are also global and could try to sue them in the country of the VPN for exporting their copyrighted material without a license. However that means the defendant can get to court easily, while bringing action in a foreign country to get them banned largely avoids them appearing to contest the action. It is also difficult for the ISP’s to contest the actions, as it will be reasoned that they are not the affected party.

PaulT (profile) says:

To boil the argument down:

Well, since people are clearly willing to pay for content, why not make it available equally to everyone? Why artificially block people by region in an era when technology removes the need for expensive physical prints, multiple TV standards, etc.?

“that’s how we get our money”

All you need to know, ladies and gentlemen. The reason why they oppose new business models is because the old one depends so much on ripping their own customers off, and they don’t like it even when they pay a premium for the same deal available elsewhere.

Given the huge number of other uses for VPNs, including banking, business and all sorts of other areas that have nothing to do with entertainment, part of me wants them to try banning them. But, rather than that circus, I’d rather the industry applies the solution they should have been working on for the last 15 years – fix licencing. While there’s still demand caused by artificial blocks, you can’t resolve this without fixing those blocks.

But, no, Netflix have to negotiate this maze that leaves massive discrepancies between what they’re allowed to offer to its own customers, and the tools used are blamed when they do find another way. “Because that’s how we make money”.

Not for long, like it or not, because your own customers are tired of being ripped off.

NoahVail (profile) says:

Vast majority of VPN use is business critical

re: “All that said, there are a ton of legitimate reasons to use a VPN or storage locker.”

Most VPNs are in use by businesses and are critical to their operations.
They’re necessary to extend office networks
: between different locations
: to remote and mobile users
: to customers and vendors who buy/sell/utilize data services.

In the US, VPNs are required by the Federal government for any number of services including Medicaid/Medicare billing and fulfilling government contracts. I’d bet Australia’s government does something similar.

However, the copyright industry is more than willing to cause irreparable harm by crippling communications across industries everywhere.
And for Big Copyright’s purchased legislators, billions in productivity loss seems to be an acceptable price to protect millions in copyright revenue.

Ed Allen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Vast majority of VPN use is business critical

Actually I think personal/private VPNs are the primary target.

Having just a few companies to pressure into giving up the keys to hundreds or thousands of customers is
much more feasable than needing to locate a pressure point for each of those customers individually.

The RIAA has given up trying to sue single customers and the MPAA is outsourcing all of those to copyright trolls.

Of course if a troll manages to get to profitability then their law teams will immediately move the trolling
back inhouse quickly.

The only way for them to get the ability to see the contents of every VPN is to have the keys available to
their designees, like Content ID, so all packets can be compared before they are forwarded.
Not just once every time they cross into/out of a geolocation.

That means Content ID holds all keys all the time, making them the number one target of government spies, hackers,
and criminals in the world.

Still while unsafe for everybody that would not outright destroy the Internet. That would be the next step.
Outlawing all communications not into or out of a copyright owner’s system would nail the lid shut.

Ed Allen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Vast majority of VPN use is business critical

How about…

A VPN service which uses as its in/out points.

Could be physically in any country so could be immune to subservient courts.

The IP addresses keep shifting so hard to block by IP address and adding new addresses is easy.

All traffic is encrypted and therefore unable to be spied upon. “Your Honor, they have locations open in both the US
and Australia at the same time so they MUST be infringing!”, would be difficult for even a sympathetic judge
or politician to agree to knowing they would face public ridicule.

Bt Garner (profile) says:

Copyright expert Kimberlee Weatherall says it is difficult to predict if the bill will be used by copyright holders to argue for an injunction against a VPN service because it lacks clarity regarding services and sites whose primary purpose is not copyright infringement, although may be being used for that purpose.

No, that is not a difficult prediction to make. If passed, copyright holders will argue for injunctions and lawsuits against VPNs. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. Ms Weatherall just won’t admit that because she does not want to bite the hand that feeds her.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder if these morons stopped for a second and thought “hey, wait a minute – these guys are NOT pirates! They are paying customers who want our products so badly they are going to use complicated technical means to do that”

Instead they thin they are the scourge of the Earth for “only” paying $8 for Netflix instead of $10 or $12 or whatever the Australian™ price would be there.

Ed Allen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“All they see is that the customer is going elsewhere to purchase the content” full stop.

That means they lose their monopoly. The monopoly is what makes the copyright valuable.

Take that away and you might just as well beg for money, that is all the power you have left.

No multi-million dollar bonuses down that path. Next up might be “downsizing” !

Bankruptsy !

Looking for WORK !!!

Anonymous Coward says:

With Australia paying more for the same content you'd think they'd know better

With Australian’s paying more for the same content (when it’s offered to them) then most of the rest of the world, you’d think they’d know better then to tighten such copyright laws farther. I mean who in their right mind thinks this would benefit Australian IP holders?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: When all you have is a lawyer...

Sure they could try and compete on price and service… but that would take work, effort, and money, and might result in a drop in profits and would almost certainly lead to a drop in control.

Parasites like this pretty much only know how to do two things when competition shows up, and that’s sue it into oblivion and/or buy laws to make it illegal to compete with them. The idea of offering what the customer wants, how and when they want it, and at a price they consider reasonable is so foreign to them it might as well be in a lost language.

tqk (profile) says:

Australia's answer to Churchill

Sorry about your war with the huns, but we can’t help because Europe is outside our geo-location as defined in international treaties. We could help with Burma, China, and Singapore among others, but North Africa, Italy, and France are right out. Good luck.

Then, guess what happens when Japan gets into it.

“This is how we get our money!”

This is not how we spend our money or make our purchases. See how that works? And, as everyone knows, the customer is always right, yes?

Shmerl says:

Will they also outlaw traveling to other countries?

Using a VPN is analogous to traveling to another country to buy some product. If companies use invalid physical logic of geo segmenting in the golbal digital space, users can pay them with the same coin and use VPN as analog of physical travel that can be used to bypass that. Unless they want to declare buying some product when you visit another country illegal, they can’t ban VPNs either.

Kronomex (profile) says:

Rupert coughs, Abbott and cronies open their arse cheeks.
Their corporate masters cough, Abbott and cronies open their arse cheeks.
The whole situation, to me at least, is about protecting Rupert and making life easier for the multinationals. Can you really see LNP Lite, sorry Labor, making changes to any of the legislation when they get in at the next election? I’m going to keep using my VPN until they come knocking on the door.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hate to state the obvious..

But.. How exactly would they be able to block VPN’s technically speaking? MAC/IP’s can change as easily as sending an e-mail.. DNSSEC would prevent poisoning.. and Simply changing your DNS to use ANYTHING other than Australian ISP’s would negate blocking at the service level.. Even with DPS real time inspection of encryption is not technically feasible at this time and ports aren’t an accurate measure as they can be change as well..

Furthermore, encryption at the application level negates any attempt to block at transport.. I get the law is silly and stupid and shouldn’t be passed.. But even if it was.. How exactly could it be enforced? VPN’s aren’t quite as static as cyber lockers and torrent sites.

I want to watch, so I shouldn't have to pay says:

Of course the use of VPNs should be allowed.
I want to see AFL at the MCG, but I want it cheaper. So ladders over the fence should be allowed too.
And of course these bastards should be made to WORK instead of making the stuff I want to watch. That ain’t working. It’s money for nothing. It may be a ‘nothing’ I want to see, but I sure as shit shouldn’t have to pay.
It’s also pretty stupid that I’m not allowed to take my water and electricity from upstream of the meter.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nice screed, but you’re basing it on a fiction. Re-read the story. This isn’t about people who aren’t paying. It’s about people who pay but do so through a non-approved method, either because they get a better deal or because they have no other choice.

You need to update your talking points. The crap you used to rail against piracy doesn’t work against people paying for services. People who pay for VPNs to access the US Netflix from overseas are by definition paying a premium over and above what a US resident pays.

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