Blocking piracy websites could have unintended consequences

1 minute read

Fairfax has reported that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis are considering responses to the copyright infringement discussion paper released in July with legislation possibly being introduced before Christmas.

One proposal could allow rights holders to force ISPs to block access to ‘infringing’ websites through an injunction. In such a case the “Court would need to be satisfied that the dominant purpose of the website is to infringe copyright.”

Many of these sites don’t actually host any infringing content but rather provide a gateway to such content by taking advantage of peer-to-peer protocols.

Blocking sites that host infringing content versus those that merely provide a link to infringing material are two very different models. What a website actually hosts is more logically relevant than what they link to.

If we start blocking websites based on the content they ‘link’ to, then couldn’t some of the most popular social media websites be in the firing line? What about the various cloud services?

An example of the technology difficulty in blocking websites was most evident when ASIC removed access to 250,000 websites instead of the three containing investment scams it had initially intended.

The government’s attack on internet piracy might be about meeting the needs of multinationals, monopolies and lobbyists, protecting the Australian film industry or foreshadowing the potential criminalisation of copyright infringement in the TPP, but an open and uncensored internet in Australia is threatened.

It seems there is a broader story to be told — it’s one about internet freedom, censorship and the digital economy.

We know that blocking websites is a flawed policy — it won’t work in the real world and can be easily thwarted but we can’t acquiesce when government policy threatens internet freedom.

I’ll be looking on with interest.