The Attorney-General's Department has answered Greens Party concerns that a Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), like that in the US, could find its way to Australia given time.
SOPA — which aims to introduce measures to battle online piracy — has lost support after a spate of online protests occurred this week, involving the likes of Wikipedia and Reddit blacking out to show their opposition of the Bill. However, it is set to be brought back to the table after changes have been made, and the somewhat watered-down PIPA Bill will also be voted on next week.
This week, Greens Party communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam urged the government to speak out against the Bill, saying that it would endanger the government's $35.9 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) project.
"Has the Australian Government made any representation whatsoever to the US Government on this issue? Do they recognise that there will be little purpose in investing tens of billions of dollars in the NBN if the US copyright industry cripples the medium itself?" Ludlam asked.
Ludlam said that SOPA and PIPA are a "breathtaking overreach by US copyright interests", and that the Bill would "institutionalise far-reaching, unaccountable censorship in order to protect the commercial interests of a handful of powerful media companies".
"SOPA would block entire non-US websites in the United States as a response to select infringing material. This includes Australian sites, and the online operations of Australian businesses," Ludlam continued."Under SOPA, US courts could bar online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with allegedly infringing websites, bar search engines from linking to such sites and require internet service providers [ISPs] to block access to such sites."
When asked what the government's plans are regarding the Bill, the attorney-general's office said that it is aware of the debate in the US about the Bills, but that the government is not currently considering similar legislation.
"It is the government's preference for industry (content owners and internet services providers) to work together to develop a code to address the issue of online piracy," the statement from the attorney-general's office said.
It pointed to the discussions that have been going on between ISPs and copyright owners, such as film studios, which have been facilitated by the government. These discussions followed several rounds of a court battle between a conglomeration of film studios called the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) and ISP iiNet. AFACT had sought to prove that iiNet authorises its users' alleged infringement of copyright.
Although iiNet won the original case and an appeal, the parties are still waiting for a High Court decision on the matter. It has put the spotlight on the responsibilities of ISPs to prevent copyright infringement. ISPs have proposed a process to discourage copyright infringers from downloading pirated content through the use of education and warning notices. However, the copyright owners have not agreed to the proposals.
The department said today that there would be another meeting of ISPs and copyright owners in February. Past meetings have come under fire for not including consumer organisations, with the government saying that it is too early in the discussions for consumers to be involved.
Last night at Linux.conf.au, Ludlam spoke again about SOPA, mentioning the meetings that the government hopes will work out the piracy issue.
"Isn't it interesting that the people that they've invited into that forum are the rights holders and carriers, and they appear to have left out the creative people who make the content and the audience ...The people who actually matter in that debate aren't in the room. They've invited the intermediaries and the people with commercial interests," he said.
"We should be in that room, in the copyright debate; otherwise, we are going to get some kind of dumbed-down Australian-flavoured SOPA — 12 months after it resolves itself in the United States, it'll pop up here; you can absolutely guarantee it."
He said that Australia has been lucky that there are "militant ISPs" and engineers who have stuck up for the interests of the population. "But we shouldn't take that for granted," he said.
Stilgherrian contributed to this article.