Australian Senate Give The Green Light To Anti-Piracy And Website-Blocking Laws

Rachel Tsoumbakos

On the one hand, the latest anti-piracy and website-blocking laws passed in the Australian senate today are a good thing. Artists who were previously getting ripped off by people illegally downloading their work should find a decrease in piracy. However, on the other hand, Australians now have part of their internet -- part of their freedom -- blocked. As one intellectual property academic put it, today is "a very dark day for the internet in Australia."

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 is the new law passed. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced the anti-piracy and website-blocking legislation proposal back in March in a bid to curb the huge piracy problem in Australia. Today the bill was passed with Coalition and Labor's support 37-13.

SBS showed its displeasure at the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill by posting their entire article on the matter censored.

Australian anti-piracy and website-blocking bill was passed in parliment today photo credit SBS

With this bill in place, rights holders can now "seek a court injunction to force internet service providers to block access to overseas websites that facilitate piracy." This means that TV networks such as HBO, whose TV series Game of Thrones is one of the largest illegally downloaded shows in Australia, can now request torrent sites that share illegally obtained files be blocked from Australian ISPs. If this legislature is successful, no Australian ISP will be able to access sites such as The Pirate Bay and Torrentz.

Many argue that censoring the internet will not curb Australians from illegally downloading their content. After all, VPNs will not be targeted in these new anti-piracy and website-blocking laws, so Australians will still be able to access geo-blocking services that will hide their location identity, just the way they already do to get full access to the U.S. version of Netflix.

And herein lies the problem. For decades, Australians have had to suffer through delayed programming as their networks purchase content from overseas to screen on Australian TVs. They have been at the whim of networks, who will buy series and then not screen them in a timely manner -- or even finish screening the series at all. A classic example of this is when Channel 10 purchased the final season of Charmed. Many fans had to record the last episode as it was screened during lunchtime rather than in a prime time slot. And this is after the entire final season had been moved around in both time and day slots several times. Of course, the U.S. had already seen the final season months before.

This is the main reason Australians illegally download, not because of cost, but because the Australian television networks don't seem interested in screening hit shows in a timely manner -- a problem exacerbated with the introduction of the internet and social media.

With the advent of these new laws passed today in Australia, there is also the concern that legitimate content sharing sites such as Dropbox might get caught up in these new anti-piracy and website-blocking laws as was the case when Australian federal government agency ASIC inadvertently blocked over 250,000 websites when they tried to block just one. Many are concerned that this level of censorship has not been properly debated, and once the laws are introduced, there will be further unforeseen implications.

Dr. Matthew Rimmer, an associate professor at the ANU College of Law, is concerned at the lack of definition in the bill in regards to certain terms. He is also concerned while, in theory, stamping out internet piracy is a good thing, censorship could go too far. Others are also concerned these new laws could open the way for Australia to end up like China with their censorship laws.

While the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill has been passed in the Australian senate today, it will likely be reviewed in 18 months time to assess its effectiveness. However, this review in itself is not even a "statutory requirement."

What do you think about Australia's new anti-piracy and website-blocking laws? Do you think censorship should be allowed on the internet in order to prevent illegal downloading of content? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below!

[Image credits: SBS screen capture / Getty Images / Adam Berry / Stringer]