Overseas sites to be blocked while legal protections for local sites languish

Copyright advocacy group the Australian Digital Alliance is urging the government to move swiftly on reforms that would allow online platforms, especially those that host third party content, to operate safely in Australia.

The group has used a submission to the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 (website blocking, to call for an extension of ‘safe harbours’, a scheme which protects intermediaries from financial liability if they take steps to protect rights holder interests.

‘It is disappointing that we are progressing at great pace to block overseas websites without first ensuring that online platforms can operate in Australia’ said Derek Whitehead OAM, Chair of the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA).

‘Safe harbours would be familiar to many people in Australia as the concept behind the DMCA in the USA. Basically, as long as an intermediary takes down content after notification by rightholders, they will not face liability for user-triggered copyright infringements.’.

‘The concept was introduced into Australian law when we signed the Australian-US Free Trade Agreement back in 2004. But due to a drafting issue, the protections were only extended to ISPs, not other online service providers, like search engines and social media platforms, that are covered under the original US law.’

‘The practical effect is that Australia is not a safe location to set up many online services. The intermediaries who must operate onshore, such as schools, universities and libraries, do so with heightened legal risk compared to their counterparts overseas.’

The proposal to extend the safe harbours was widely supported when it was recommended last year, with organisation as diverse as the BBC, Microsoft and Universities Australian voicing their support in submissions.

‘It’s already taken 10 years to fix what was essentially a drafting mistake’ says Trish Hepworth from the ADA. ‘This is a long overdue, ‘no brainer’ reform.’

The submission also raises concerns with the drafting of the website blocking bill, although it notes that a reduction in piracy is a laudable objective.

‘We’re not opposed to website blocking as long as it only catches those flagrantly infringing sites such as the Pirate Bay or Popcorn Time’ says Whitehead.

‘But current drafting also has the potential to capture foreign-based sites which provide VPNs, online storage, accessible content, browser plug-ins and software. The Bill should not proceed until the scope is narrowed and safeguards to adequately protect the public interest are introduced.’

The Bill is currently being considered by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and is due to report on May 13. 

*The proposal to extend safe harbours in last year’s Discussion Paper[1] was supported by a diverse range of organisations, including:

ACCAN, the Australian Digital Alliance, Australian Director’s Guild, Australian Information Industry Association, Australian Libraries Copyright Committee, Australian Library and Information Association, AIMIA Digital Policy Group, Arts Law Centre of Australia, Australian Computer Society, BBC, Business Software Alliance, Communications Alliance, Copyright Advisory Group to the COAG Education Council, eBay, European Competitive Telecommunications Association, Institute of Public Affairs, Free TV, Google, Group of Eight, iiNet, Independent Scholars Association of Australia, Law Council of Australia Media and Communications Committee, Law Council of Australia Intellectual Property Committee,  Law Institute of Victoria, Law Society of NSW Young Lawyers Communications Entertainment and Technology Law Committee, Microsoft, National Archives of Australia, National Film and Sound Archives, Parke Lawyers, Queensland Law Society, SBS, Telstra, Thoughtworks, Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific and Universities Australia.

About the Australian Digital Alliance

Established in 1998 under the patronage of former Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason, the ADA is a non-profit coalition of public and private sector interests formed to promote balanced copyright law and provide an effective voice for a public interest perspective in the copyright debate. ADA members include universities, schools, consumers, galleries, museums, IT companies, libraries, archives and charitable organisations.

Whilst the breadth of ADA membership spans various sectors, all members are united in their support of copyright law that appropriately balances the interests of rights holders with the interests of users of copyright material.

Media Contact:

Trish Hepworth: info@digial.org.au

[1] Attorney-General’s Department Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper (2014)


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