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Australia set to toughen online piracy laws

July 25, 2014

By Colin Mann

A discussion paper addressing online copyright infringement seems likely to rekindle the debate between Australian copyright holders and ISPs

A copy of the leaked document – seen by the Australian Financial Review – is dated July 2014, but it is unclear whether it contains Attorney General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s definitive proposals.

The paper calls for comments on a range of issues including new definitions for “reasonable steps” an ISP must take to prevent or avoid copyright infringement, what rights consumers punished under these steps would have, what courts would need to consider when ordering a website to be blocked, and extending so-called “safe harbour” provisions for avoiding copyright infringement cases to include universities and search engines such as Google.

Brandis mid-February 204 tabled the final report of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy, which contained a number of recommendations he admitted are “controversial”. He said that without strong, robust copyright laws, Australia’s creative industry was at risk of being cheated of the fair compensation for its creativity.

“The government will be considering possible mechanisms to provide a ‘legal incentive’ for an internet service provider to cooperate with copyright owners in preventing infringement on their systems and networks,” he explained at the time. “This may include looking carefully at the merits of a scheme whereby ISPs are required to issue graduated warnings to consumers who are using websites to facilitate piracy.

A trial under which ISPs passed on notices of alleged online copyright infringement to their customers was abandoned in May 2013 after iiNet withdrew.

The ISP has long resisted federal efforts to mandate copyright protection schemes, and mid-June 2014 called on its customers to make their voices known by writing to politicians at the heart of moves to introduce legislation, which the ISP says would require ISPs such as iiNet to send infringement notices to its customers while, at the same time, blocking certain websites which provide access for customers to download and share unauthorised content.

Writing in the iiNET blog, Steve Dalby, Chief Regulatory Officer, said: “Make your voice known. Write to those who are positions of power and let them know what you think. You can start by contacting Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. You can also send your thoughts to politicians engaged in the issue such as Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam,” he advised.

He said that iiNET was still holding out hope that the Australian Government, the Hollywood Studios and other rights holders would deliver a positive solution to the ongoing issue of piracy. “Until that time, we’ll continue to push for a better future for Australian content users, one removed from the constraints being discussed in Canberra.”

Dalby said on Twitter that the ISP would wait for the paper’s official release before consulting with industry colleagues and making public comments.

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