Stop the torrents: Australian government eyes copyright crackdown

Stop the torrents: Australian government eyes copyright crackdown

Summary: Australian Attorney-General George Brandis has said that the government is considering a three-strikes proposal to force ISPs to stop the boats of The Pirate Bay, and crack down on its users downloading copyright-infringing TV shows and films.


The Australian government looks set to overhaul the country's copyright laws with a view to force internet service providers to begin cracking down on users who download TV shows and films over BitTorrent.

Attorney-General George Brandis has said that the government is considering a graduated response scheme for dealing with online copyright infringement, despite telling ZDNet before the election that the party had no policy to take to the election.

In a wide-ranging speech to the Australian Digital Alliance forum in Canberra this morning, Brandis, who is also the minister for the arts, responded in part to the Australian Law Reform Commission's (ALRC) report on reforming the Copyright Act for the digital age. He said that the Act would be simplified, and technology-specific mentions to outdated technologies such as video tapes removed.

He also hinted that the law would be changed to accommodate international trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership currently under negotiation.

"That is particularly important as the Abbott government continues, to number among its signature achievements, the negotiation of free trade agreements with our major trading partners, which, as you all know, contain important provisions concerning copyright and other intellectual property issues," he said.

But the attorney-general said he remains committed to protecting the rights of content owners, and said the government is looking to crack down on online copyright infringement. He said that users downloading TV shows, films, or music over BitTorrent amounts to theft.

"The illegal downloading of Australian films online is a form of theft. I say Australian films, but of course, the illegal downloading of any protected content is a form of theft," he said.

"Some stakeholders have sought the introduction of laws aimed squarely at the scourge of online piracy. While I am sympathetic to their views and am interested in examining new measures that will cut rates of online piracy in Australia, I am not unmindful of the policy challenges of developing the most efficacious regime to do so."

He said that reform of Section 101 of the Copyright Act could potentially be reformed to require ISPs to clamp down on copyright infringement.

"The government will be considering possible mechanisms to provide a 'legal incentive' for an internet service provider to cooperate with copyright owners in preventing infringement on their systems and networks," he said.

"This may include looking carefully at the merits of a scheme whereby ISPs are required to issue graduated warnings to consumers who are using websites to facilitate piracy."

Content owners have been agitating for the government to crack down on online piracy since iiNet defeated the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) in the High Court in 2012. The court ruled that iiNet has no direct power to prevent its users from using BitTorrent to infringe on copyright, and the notices that AFACT had provided to iiNet were not in a form where it would have been reasonable for iiNet to warn its customers.

They have long called for graduated response schemes, and even requested the ALRC to consider online copyright infringement as part of its review of the Act, despite the terms of reference for the review explicitly excluding it.

Brandis said that such a proposal is "complex" and how it would be paid for is currently unresolved.

"It should also be noted that Australia has international obligations on this point, and that the government will not be seeking to burden ISPs beyond what is reasonably necessary to comply [with] appropriate domestic and international obligations," he said.

"As well, I would like to emphasise that this would not put Australian ISPs at a disadvantage by comparison with their counterparts internationally, as many overseas jurisdictions have the concept of authorisation liability, secondary liability, or similar, which are intended to capture ISPs."

According to Nic Suzor, a senior lecturer in law at the Queensland University of Technology, the cost of implementing such a system will be huge.

"This is the next step in the strategies of Hollywood to push the costs of enforcement out to ISPs. The huge problem is that if a notice-based warning system is going to have any deterrent effect, it likely needs penalties to be imposed in massive numbers," he told ZDNet.

"The cost of doing this legitimately is huge — and really, the only bodies suited to impose penalties are courts. In order to keep costs down, we'll necessarily have problems with due process. These sorts of functions really should not be trusted to private entities."

A recent study on graduated response schemes implemented in the UK, France, and New Zealand, among others, has shown that graduated response schemes do not deter users from infringing on copyright.

While Brandis said he would prefer the industry to implement a self-regulatory copyright scheme, attempts to get a scheme up and running by the previous government came undone after iiNet walked out of the copyright meetings held by the Attorney-General's Department with content owners, ISPs, and consumer groups.

"Industry participants are in the best position to develop a flexible, cooperative self-regulatory approach tailored to particular industry needs. Industry cooperation is a key element in tackling online piracy, and I will continue to encourage industry participants to work together to overcome the outstanding issues in contention," Brandis said.

"I believe in strong protections and enforcement mechanisms in support of Australia's creative industries, but, as I indicated, I am also keen, as one of the achievements in the first-term of the Abbott government, to modernise, reform, and contemporise the Copyright Act."

Brandis said another option the government is considering is giving the Federal Court the power to give injunctions to ISPs, requiring them to block websites hosting infringing content.

Suzor said such a scheme was also trialled in Europe and had failed.

"There is no evidence that website blocking works to limit copyright infringement. It's been tried in Europe — ISPs ordered to block access to The Pirate Bay, but it just doesn't work, for the same reason that mandatory filtering proposals wouldn't work: These technologies are very easy to circumvent," he said.

Brandis also said that he remains to be convinced that the main recommendation for the report — that a flexible fair use regime be implemented — is the right way forward for copyright in Australia.

"I remain to be persuaded that this is the best direction for Australian law, but nevertheless, I will bring an open and inquiring mind to the debate. I am convinced that we can do much to improve how copyright works in this country."

A fair use regime would prevent cloud storage, or local caching, or even copying DVDs onto digital devices from being considered copyright infringement. The content industry has opposed a fair use regime on the basis that there had been "no compelling evidence" that the lack of a fair use system in Australia is restricting commercial activity in Australia.

Topics: Government, Government AU, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Industry scheme ?

    >> Brandis said he would prefer the industry to implement a self-regulatory copyright scheme...

    Which industry would that be ?
    The Content Industry, which keeps saying "We stand to gain $billions if infringements are stopped" - or the Telecommunications Industry who simply incur costs and gain nothing ?
    • Exactly.

      Nicely put.

      Shouldn't the content industry or the government be forced to foot the bill for this? ISPs (RSPs or whatever they are called now) are just a service provider. If the government wants this "service" implemented the ISPs/RSPs should be entitled to bill them for it. It is a service after all.
      • Content distribution.

        I'd prefer to see the government do something about providing AFFORDABLE avenues of legitimate content before cracking down on piracy. As others have mentioned, the only way to get a lot of content in Australia is to either get Foxtel or pirate. Of course you have the VPN grey area with overseas services such as Netflix and HBO but you have to be technically savvy to access these services.

        I think limiting the price on subscription TV charges might be a decent first step. Limiting the amount of income that a company like Telstra/Foxtel receives from broadcasts, would mean that they wouldn't offer as much to the overseas companies for exclusivity, which would also mean that the smaller players such as Quickflix will get more of a competing chance.

        Will this happen? Probably not ... we all know that Murdoch/Foxtel and the Liberal Party are all BFF's and this drive for piracy crackdown is probably aimed more at Murdoch's hip pocket than anything else.
        • If it becomes necessary

          The 'technically savvy' part of setting up a VPN will become an easy to use product. Nice to see that Brandis is looking after US interests instead of Australian ... again. How long before he uses the terrorists or the kiddies card to justify this? ... again?
  • How about tackling the content monopolies?

    The only choice for viewing, say, game of thrones as it is released is via a Foxtel plan to the tune of $73 per month. No other choices.
    • Choice

      Plenty of choices. You could not watch Game of Thrones, or buy the season cheap on DVD on ebay right after next Christmas.

      If people feel as if they must watch a show, of course the producers try to squeeze them dry.

      Easy for me to say as I've stopped watching TV years ago...
      • Theft

        I agree tough that the whole "Theft" thing is ridiculous. In my mind people who claim that illegal downloads are theft are either paid by the industry or mentally challenged, sometimes both.

        Theft means something is taken from someone it belongs to. Software piracy is giving something to someone it doesn't belong to. Clearly they are not the same. It is illegal, but it is not theft - it's software piracy.
        • I Agree With You

          It's certainly not theft, but many people take a running jump from 'it's not theft' to 'so I should get things for free'.

          People interested in protecting their IP probably feel that it needs a 'bad' term associated with it to make people stop thinking its harmless. Which gets a bad reaction from those who actually think about what the words mean.
          luke mayson
          • Obviously it shouldn't be free

            Or there's no real incentive to produce content. But if you don't deliver it in a timely fashion across the world, or deliver it at vastly different costs across the world, an equalisation is going to occur. That's not illegal, no matter how much the Murlochs of the world would like it to be, despite being aided by quislings^H local ministers like Brandis.
    • Actually, there is the other way...

      to get cheaply the HBO GO subscription, but it is exactly what they want to stop.
      Abbott's payback time to Ruppie!!!
  • Copyright sucks

    Copyright is the past. Fair use is the future.
  • Copyright sucks

    Copyright is the past. Fair use is the future.
    • Downloading the entire episode is not the meaning of fair use.

      I'm not going to selectively quote from it, just read it
  • Brandis is a non achieving fool.

    "STOP THE PIRACY" is this the new three word slogan from the Cretin Liberals, absolutely no chance of this working.
    It's been tried before with CD piracy, Macromedia encryption of Videotape, DVD encryption and Blu-ray encryption nothing works. Why because we the people have decided to take into own hands and used our solutions to defeat politicians that have been bought off by very distasteful media proprietors, that have ripped us off for years.
    Nobody believes their relentless sobbing.
    Kevin Cobley
  • Yeah Piracy ?

    Bring Back the Pirates - "Arrrr Matey", I was wondering
    if the actors, studios and media moguls make enough
    money already ? Take my girlfriend to the Movies, $ 15
    dollars each, not including popcorn and a drink, gum
    on seats, sticking shoes, gas and parking turns into a
    $ 100 dollar night - all for a 90 minute crappy movie.
    So we burn 1 or 2 a week. Sit in comfort, a bottle of
    wine and cuddle. We have a popcorn maker, so what
    could be better than that ? I buy enough CD's (Music
    and Movies) for better quality, or wait 4 years for it
    on TV - with 45 minutes of commercials. Who would
    agree ? Not Hollywood, so what if they can't buy a
    new BMW or a new Mercedes. We work hard with so
    little benefits. so whats the harm in cold Canadian
    winters ? But soon Netfix.
    • I wish it was only $15...

      Ticket prices in Australia are more like $25-30 :(
      $10 for some popcorn + $8 for a drink.

      Boom $70 gone.
      our exchange rates are about at parity...
    • To be fair..

      Say you created a product and the customer added the cost of his tea, drinks at the pub & other seemingly unrelated things to the price of your product and says you should make it cheaper? doesn't really make much sense, these other expenses are 3rd parties and is your choice.
  • Copyright reform

    "The original length of copyright in the United States was 14 years, and it had to be explicitly applied for. If the author wished, they could apply for a second 14‑year monopoly grant, but after that the work entered the public domain, so it could be used and built upon by others."

    This make a lot more sense to me corruption has got us to the state we are at today.
    • Multiple Copyrights

      It would be complicated to implement and track, but my preferred scheme would be for there to be MULTIPLE levels of copyright, of which you could only ever apply for one.

      Freely alterable, freely distributable, only available at a specified source, no derivative works for X years, etc.

      And this slate of options would only be available for CREATORS. They could licence it to whoever they wanted, but that would be independent of the copyright itself.
      luke mayson
  • Free Trade BS

    Brandis is signalling the crackdown as part of the terms and conditions of the Trans Pacific Free Trade Agreement.

    "Australians could pay more for drugs and medicines, movies, computer games and software, and be placed under surveillance as part of a US-led crackdown on internet piracy, ...."

    That's the agreement which is being kept hidden from the public but wherein the Liberals sell out Australia to US dominated corporate copyright interests.
    Way to go Liberals (arseholes!)