Australian Parliament Moves Copyright Amendment Out Of Committee and Into Law

from the concerns?--what-concerns? dept

As we have been discussing over the past few months, Australia has been considering updating its copyright law from one which does site-blocking with judicial oversight to one which does site-blocking, mirror-blocking without judicial oversight, search results blocking, and expands the definition of the types of sites to be blocked from those with the primary "purpose" of infringement to those with the primary "effect" being infringement. These changes came with concerns in tow, both from government officials and tech companies, and it's understandable why. Any time the government looks to lessen its own oversight in the interest of making it easier for corporate interests to censor the internet for the common citizen, it creates a situation practically begging for abuse with the principal effect being dampening the primary purpose of the internet as a communications tool. The concerns raised over this change in the law focused on those very things, while also highlighting how the copyright industries have been touting the site-blocking already in place as a success.

But, as is too often the case, the Australian government has hand-waved those concerns with claims that nebulous "safeguards" are in place to prevent abuse and recommended going ahead with the changes to the law.

Yesterday, the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee published the results of its inquiry. Those hoping for an additional dissenting voice will be disappointed.

“The committee is of the view that the amendments proposed by the bill are likely to improve the operation of the injunctive scheme in section 115A of the Copyright Act, and represent a measured and proportionate response to concerns identified by stakeholders in relation to the operation of that scheme,” the report reads. “In this respect, the committee also notes that the majority of submissions received by the committee supported the bill and recommended that it be passed unamended.”

After noting that the expansion for blocking mirror sites without judicial approval could be abused, the committee goes on to say it's all under control.

“[T]he committee is of the view that the measures are appropriately circumscribed. In particular, the committee notes the evidence that the Court would maintain ultimate oversight over these injunctions, as well as the evidence that there must a sufficient nexus between the online location covered by the original injunction and the location to which the order is expanded,” the report reads.

In other words, way back in the distance, the courts are ultimately still in charge of the injunctions, somehow making the fact that the expanded injunctions are approved outside of the court all good. And, on top of that, none of this will be abused because rightsholders will have to rely on good evidence for the expanded injunctions, despite the fact that rightsholders' grasp on what good evidence is has always been laughable. Again, all of this is pitched as a way to get site-blocking in place more speedily, which sets off all the obvious justice alarm bells.

On the search-blocking portion of the amendment, the committee relies on a claim that, essentially, Google is helping people infringe copyright.

Finally, on forcing search engines to purge their results of previously-blocked sites, the Committee again acknowledges objections from those who feel such measures are unnecessary. Again, however, the report dismisses the concerns, noting that search engines may play a role in both infringement and enforcement of copyright so the measures are “appropriate.”

Except that this is nonsense industry drivel, and always has been. Search engines don't play "a role" in infringement. They play a role in returning relevant search results to the public. They're address books, of a kind, and search engines no more play a role in infringing copyright by returning search results than address books play a role in drug use by listing where a flop house might be. If that is what the committee is relying on to approve a copyright amendment with valid opposition and concern, it sure doesn't make one confident in the rest of its assessment.

It was on the back of these nebulous claims of safeguards and shaky claims about how search engines work that the amendment was moved out of committee and quickly passed by the Australian Parliament. And it was announced in a manner that appears designed to irritate those of us who actually know what copyright infringement is and is not.

Announcing the adoption of the amendments by Parliament today, the Government said that the Bill will give rightsholders enhanced ability to fight copyright infringement. Minister for Communications and the Arts Mitch Fifield noted that there will now be “less room” for pirates to circumvent Australia’s existing measures.

“The Government has zero tolerance for online piracy. It is theft, and damaging to our creative economy and local creators. We are committed to protecting Australia’s creative industries and the world-class content we produce every year,” Minister Fifield said. “The passage of our legislation today sends a strong message to online pirates that Australia does not tolerate online theft.”

I actually wouldn't have thought it possible to include the "copyright is theft" fallacy not once, but twice, in a three sentence statement on passing a bill that does nothing to stop theft, but will almost certainly be an avenue for abuse by copyright industry groups that have always been willing to slam open a door after its been cracked an inch. The only silver lining in all of this is the amendment comes with a two year review period, after which the government will have the opportunity to make further changes if such abuses occur.

And they almost certainly will occur, though I would expect the government to perform its same hand-waving trick when those concerns arise two years from now as well.

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Filed Under: australia, censorship, copyright, search, site blocking
Companies: google, village roadshow

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