The federal government last night passed controversial new laws aimed at combating online piracy after winning bi-partisan support for the measures in the lower house.
The passage of the new laws means that content owners will soon be able to apply to the federal court for orders requiring ISPs to block access to websites in cases where they can prove that their “primary purpose” is to facilitate copyright infringement.
The laws target piracy promotion websites including those that provide torrent files used for peer-to-peer sharing in illegal digital copies of music and video that are hosted overseas in jurisdictions beyond the legal reach of domestic copyright law.
During two-hours of debate when the bill was read in parliament for a second time last night, both sides of politics expressed support for the new laws whilst acknowledging that they weren’t a “silver bullet” to address online piracy.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who introduced the bill to parliament in March, last night told the house that the government had accepted all the recommendations of a parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the legislation.
The committee recommended that the bill be passed late last week with some minor amendments.
While Labor offered its support for the bill Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said that the government still wasn’t doing enough to help copyright holders.
Mr Dreyfus recommended that the bill was amended to require the government to respond to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) report on copyright in the digital economy and the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications’ Inquiry into IT Pricing by September 17.
Mr Dreyfus was particularly critical of Attorney-General Senator George Brandis failure to deliver on commitments to respond to the ALRC report given to the government in November 2013.
“Early in February 2014 Senator Brandis undertook to pursue a “root and branch” reform of copyright law in response to that report.
“The copyright act, Senator Brandis said quite rightly is, and I quote, ‘overly long, unnecessarily complex, often comically outdated and, all too often, in its administration, pointlessly bureaucratic’.
“Senator Brandis promised that he would conduct a ‘thorough and exhaustive exercise in law reform to remedy this’ and yet Seantor Brandis has produced nothing. More than 18 months after receiving it the Australian government is yet to respond to the ALR’s report,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“Australia cannot hope to support our creative industries nor to encourage new digital practices in education and academia if our copyright laws are allowed to lapse into obsolescence,” he later added.
The website blocking laws have not escaped criticism from intellectual property lawyers. Some IP lawyers have argued that the laws will be effectively unworkable for content owners as pirate site operators could easily sidestep court injunctions by moving to an alternative location. Content owners would then have to reapply for fresh court orders to block the new location.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) described it as leaving copyright owners “playing an expensive game of whack-a-mole”.
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