Stop the torrents: ISPs to block piracy websites, send warnings

The Australian government is moving ahead with plans to crack down on online copyright infringement, with website blocking and warning notices coming in 2015.

Australian internet users downloading infringing copies of the latest TV shows and movies may receive warning notices and find it harder to reach websites containing torrents, under plans announced by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis on Tuesday.

Despite an acknowledgement that most Australians believe content affordability and availability are the key reasons for online copyright infringement, the government is planning on imposing new measures to block copyright infringement websites, and warn users alleged to have infringed. Turnbull and Brandis said on Tuesday that the plans to reduce the number of Australians infringing on copyright online are "the least burdensome and most flexible way" to address concerns about online copyright infringement.

The plans come following the release of a discussion paper earlier this year that saw over 600 submissions from the public, internet service providers, consumer groups, and content owners.

On Tuesday, Brandis and Turnbull said that following the consultation process, they have written to the internet service providers stating that they should develop an industry code to notify customers when they are alleged to have infringed on copyright online by a rights holder, and how they can gain access to legitimate content.

Despite similar negotiations between rights holders and internet service providers breaking down in 2012 under the former Labor government, the ministers are confident of the two sides reaching agreement, because if one is not reached within 120 days -- by April 8, 2015 -- there will be a binding industry code set up under the Copyright Act, and prescribed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) at the direction of the minister for communications.

In the letter to the industry, the ministers state that the cost of the scheme must be shared between rights holders and internet service providers, something that had been a matter of contention between the two sides. Rights holders have resisted paying for the process, and internet service providers also believe that they should not be forced to pay to effectively become "copyright cops".

The scheme will need to be "sustainable and technology neutral", Brandis and Turnbull state in the letter. They said the scheme must also provide appropriate safeguards.

The two sides must also come to an agreement on the number of notices to be sent out, and provide a "process for facilitated discovery" so that rights holders can obtain the ISP customer's details for copyright infringement action after the agreed number of notices have been sent to the customer.

Turnbull has previously said that copyright holders must be prepared to sue members of the public for sharing infringing content online.

Brandis and Turnbull state that they recognise that pricing and availability of content in Australia "was a key factor raised in the majority of submissions" to the government's online copyright infringement discussion paper earlier this year. However, they claim that there have been efforts within the content industry to improve this in recent times.

The "graduated response" proposal put forward by the government has been shown to be ineffective in other regions of the world.

Legislation will be introduced into parliament next year that will amend the Copyright Act to allow a court to block overseas-hosted websites that can be shown to be primarily for the purpose of online copyright infringement.

This clause is designed to prevent other sites, such as blog or video sites, from being blocked for containing just some infringing content.

Although the initial discussion paper outlined potential changes to safe harbour rules, this was not discussed in the announcement released on Tuesday.

More to come.

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