Internet users who are allegedly infringing copies of the latest TV shows and movies will soon be receiving warning notices under a new code that was finalised by Australian internet service providers and rights holder groups on Wednesday, as a way to crack down on online copyright infringement.
The announcement follows the deadline the industry was given by Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis to complete negotiations on the copyright infringement code.
It will see rights holders send out reports identifying IP addresses that are alleged to have infringed on copyright -- such as those using peer-to-peer services to download the latest TV show or film. The ISPs will then try to match the IP addresses to the account holders at the time of the alleged infringement, and pass on education notices or warnings.
Internet service providers will have the opportunity to warn customers three times in a 12-month period before the ISPs facilitate access to the discovery of a user's details through the Federal Court.
The code was lodged with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) on Wednesday, with a few amendments made in response to the draft code released in February. The amendments to the code remove a AU$25 fee charged to consumers to challenge and get an independent review of alleged infringements, and there will be "stronger consumer representation" on the Copyright Information Panel that oversees the running of the scheme.
Some rights holders had raised concerns that mobile services were not caught by the scheme -- only fixed-line broadband -- and that customers would be able to avoid being caught by masking their IP addresses. These concerns were not addressed in the amendments.
There is still an underlying question on the cost, and whether the 70 ISPs covered by the scheme will be compensated for having to enforce copyright on behalf of the rights holders. Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said that would be worked out while the ACMA assesses the code.
"There are still some commercial details, including elements of the scheme funding arrangements, to be finalised, and the finished product must meet the approval of the ACMA, but all stakeholders believe that the code can be an important tool toward the shared objective of reducing online copyright infringement in Australia," he said in a statement.
It comes as the Federal Court on Tuesday ruled that iiNet and five other ISPs must hand over the details of 4,726 customers alleged to have shared an infringing copy of Dallas Buyers Club over peer-to-peer services.
Dallas Buyers Club LLC has, in the US, sent out "speculative invoices" to customers who were alleged to have infringed, demanding thousands of dollars in compensation or risk being taken to court. The company will not be allowed to conduct a similar operation in Australia, with the court needing to approve a draft of any letter sent to customers.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) warned that the scheme would make it easier for companies like Dallas Buyers Club LLC to target Australians with threatening letters for alleged infringement.
"Speculative invoicing has occurred in the US, Canada, and UK, where consumers have been sent intimidating letters demanding compensation for claims of [illicit] file sharing," ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said in a statement.
"The Dallas Buyers Club Federal Court decision is worrying, because in the future, Australian consumers may be sent threatening letters shaking them down for money or face the threat of legal action."
Stanton said the notice scheme would not be affected by the court's decision, but the ISPs had argued in court that the scheme itself could be seen as a reason not to have the details handed over to Dallas Buyers Club LLC.
Justice Nye Perram rejected this line of argument, stating "there is no sensible chance" of the code coming into force in the next few months.
The code will be reviewed 120 days after it comes into effect.