Aussie Rightsholders Look To Feature Creep Site-Blocking To Search-Blocking, Because Of Course They Are
from the not-a-bug dept
When it comes to censorship in the name of copyright, we’ve made the point time and again that opening this door an inch will cause supporters of censorship to try to barge through and open it all the way. Inevitably, when a population tries to satiate the entertainment industry by giving them just a little censorship, that industry will ask for more and more and more.
A good example of this can be seen right now in Australia. Like far too many countries, Australia began a site-blocking practice three or so years ago. Currently, the Department of Commnications is asking for feedback on the effectiveness of this practice as well as feedback on each step in the process itself. The way it works in Australia is that rightsholders have to get an initial injunction which then winds its way to a site being blocked as a “pirate site.” Well, for the largest entertainment industry groups in Australia, the feedback is essentially, “This is great, let’s censor even more!”
The most aggressive submissions come from the two companies that have made the most use of the blocking scheme so far – movie group Village Roadshow and TV provider Foxtel. Together the companies have had dozens of sites blocked in Australia by local ISPs but now they want the blocking regime expanded to online service platforms too. Indeed, in the Roadshow and Foxtel submissions combined, Google is mentioned no less than 29 times as being part of the piracy problem Down Under.
“Village Roadshow strongly supported the original site blocking legislation and now we strongly support strengthening it,” Village Roadshow co-chief Graham Burke writes. “With all major pirate sites blocked in Australia, the front door of the department store is shut. However, pirates, facilitated by Google and other search engines, are circumventing Australian Laws and Courts and opening a huge back door. Australia needs the power to require Google and other search engines to take reasonable steps to stop facilitating searches which lead to pirate sites.”
In case it isn’t obvious, these attacks on Google are plainly absurd. Google is a search company and it makes its money by returning the best results for what people are searching. Whether that is infringing content or not doesn’t matter to Google. Only the usefulness of its search results matters. It’s also not clear why, if the site-blocking through ISPs is as effective as Village Roadshow says, they should also need Google to delist so-called “pirate sites.” Aren’t those sites being blocked by ISPs? If a Google search can somehow defeat the site-blocking, then the site-blocking isn’t nearly as effective as advertised.
But Village Roadshow doubles down with a hilariously wrong analogy later in its submission.
“The analogy for Google is a Westfield Shopping Centre knowing they are getting big traffic to the center from a store that is using stolen goods to lure people and then robbing them!” he writes.
I’ve never had pain from my eyes rolling so hard until reading that sentence. Still, the people in Australia should be paying attention, because what Village Roadshow and its cohorts want is to extend the censoring of sites it deems to be “pirate sites” to “intermediary service providers”, which means search companies and social media companies Suddenly, the sharing tool that is the internet and social media will live at the pleasure of entertainment industries that have never, ever, ever been able to accurately determine what is a “pirate site” and what is just an otherwise useful site with some users that are infringing on some copyrights.
It’s also worth noting that search companies had already voluntarily agreed to demote infringing sites in search results. Foxtel, the other large entertainment industry player in Australia, noted as much in its own comment submission, before going on to hand-wave it away as insufficient.
Village Roadshow, Foxtel doesn’t appear to be content with demotion – blocking and delisting is the aim.
“Foxtel strongly believes that extending the site blocking powers to search engines so that they must remove copyright infringing sites from search results would have a substantial impact on reducing piracy in Australia,” the company says.
“Search engines already remove URLs from site indexes to comply with local laws and product community standards and therefore, technologically Foxtel understands it would be a relatively simple exercise for search engines to comply with Australian blocking orders.”
Creep, creep, creep. That is how this works. If you open the door an inch, they will come barging through. And it’s worth repeating again that the entertainment industry has never been able to be accurate in its accusations. So what Village Roadshow and Foxtel are really asking for is broad power to censor sites from most of the common internet platforms and search engines that most people use when they have not shown the ability to treat that kind of responsibility with care. And, indeed, they actually want the bar to be lowered as to what is a “pirate site.”
While none of the above is particularly new in the global scheme of things, it’s interesting to note that even when agreements are reached and new legislation is formed, rightsholders always keep pushing for more.
That’s clearly highlighted in the Foxtel submission when the company says that the threshold for determining a pirate site should be lowered. Currently, a site must have a “primary purpose” to “infringe, or to facilitate the infringement” of copyright. Foxtel sees this as being too high.
So a site should be considered a pirate site even if the purpose of the site isn’t to be a pirate site? Cool. What could possibly go wrong with that?