We've been covering the discussion around copyright reform down in Australia for a while, and it's continuing to get worse and worse. As you may recall, after a long and detailed process
, involving careful input from a variety of stakeholders on all sides of the equation, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) came out with a set of proposals that were actually pretty good
, including things like introducing fair use to Australia.
Of course, rather than pay attention to this detailed and thoughtful process, the current Attorney General, George Brandis, decided to only listen to Hollywood
. This created quite a telling discussion
when Senator Scott Ludlam asked Brandis if he had consulted any consumer rights groups or other copyright experts concerning his copyright plans, and Brandis refused to answer
, instead getting angry and insisting that Hollywood's interest is the public interest. Brandis also claimed -- totally incorrectly -- that Australia has no laws against online piracy and is "the worst offender of any country in the world when it comes to online piracy." That's simply bogus
, and appears to just be a Hollywood talking point.
Given all that, it was fully expected that Brandis would basically obey Hollywood's orders
-- especially given that the main discussions he'd been having came with the "Australian Screen Association," which is a rebranded version of AFACT, which a Wikileaks State Department cable
revealed was 100% controlled by Hollywood interests in the US.
And, indeed, Brandis has delivered his gift proposal to (or, should we say from?) Hollywood
. It involves three main proposals, but the big one is overturning the important iiNet decision
that highlighted that ISPs are protected from liability for users infringing, because they're not the proactive party. In other words, under that ruling, ISPs can't be forced to be copyright cops. Brandis' plan would wipe that out, requiring ISPs to spy on user activity and try to block any "bad stuff" from happening, or they would face liability:
The Government believes that even where an ISP does not have a direct power to prevent a person from doing a particular infringing act, there may still be reasonable steps that can be taken by the ISP to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement.
Extending authorisation liability is essential to ensuring the existence of an effective legal framework that encourages industry cooperation and functions as originally intended, and is consistent with Australia's international obligations.
"Extending authorization liability" sounds so polite. But what it really means is "making ISPs into copyright cops" and encouraging them to spy on and block all sorts of activity, legal or not, to avoid liability from massive copyright infringement lawsuits (like the one against iiNet). Also note the famous "consistent with international obligations" line. We've been saying for nearly a decade now, whenever anyone brings up "international obligations," you know they're being intellectually dishonest.
The second part of the proposal is basically Australia's version of SOPA. It would allow for website blocking of "infringing overseas sites." And it would be like the original SOPA, with a "private right of action," allowing entire websites
to be blocked on the say so of the copyright holder
. A court would have to approve it, but it would likely be an incredibly one-sided hearing, as it's unlikely foreign websites will travel to Australia.
A similar provision in Australian law could enable rights holders to take action to block access to a website offering infringing material without the need to establish that a particular ISP has authorised an infringement.
The final piece of the plan appears to be an attempt to buy off internet companies that are likely to oppose this plan, in that it extends safe harbor protections to more of them. Basically, this is a cynical ploy to try to split the obvious opposition of this plan. Without this, it would clearly be both internet companies and internet access providers (ISPs) opposing. But here the idea is that if they barely extend a few safe harbor protections to more internet companies, maybe those guys won't oppose this effort as strongly.
Either way, this is pretty much what was expected. It's an evidence-free proposal based on the fear mongering claims of Hollywood, and an attempt to turn ISPs into Hollywood's personal copyright cops, spying on your usage and doing anything to block infringement, even if that also wipes out plenty of legitimate speech as well.
Thankfully, Senator Ludlam (who exposed Brandis' unwillingness to even answer whether he met with consumer rights groups) has already spoken out
about this proposal:
Such a move would unleash a wave of lawsuits as giant film and TV studios re-open legal action to try and get Australian ISPs to act as ‘copyright police' in penalising their customers for online copyright infringement.
The paper also discusses a range of other options for tackling the issue, including forcing ISPs to block websites, sending users warning notices, and even limiting the broadband connections of those who are only suspected of pirating content online.
What the discussion paper doesn't contain is any attempt to address the real reason why Australians pirate films and TV shows online - the ongoing refusal of giant corporations to make their content available in an affordable and timely fashion.
Just getting access to watch HBO's popular Game of Thrones show can cost Australians up to $50 a month - and the show is only available week by week from one source: pay TV giant Foxtel, which is co-owned by Telstra and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
The Greens believe the Abbott Government is trying to protect an outdated dinosaur of a business model where a small group of mega-corporations control all access to the content Australians want to access. This isn't a surprise, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars film and TV studios have recently donated to the Coalition.