Australian journalists' union endorses internet filtering

The union representing media, artists, and journalists has backed an Australian government proposal to block websites containing copyright-infringing material.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance has endorsed a proposal by the Australian government to allow film studios to seek injunctions to force internet service providers to filter out websites from view of their customers that are deemed to contain copyright-infringing TV shows or films.

The MEAA represents journalists, actors, dancers, photographers, and people working in TV, film and radio. In its submission (PDF) to the copyright infringement discussion paper released by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis in July, the MEAA said that rights holders should be able to seek to get websites blocked that infringe on copyright.

"MEAA welcomes the government's recognition that rights holders are unable to take enforcement action against overseas-based websites and that action needs to be directed at intermediaries. MEAA strongly supports the proposal to allow for no fault injunctive relief," the MEAA said.

"We note reports that in the UK, where site blocking has been implemented, the use of Pirate Bay declined by 60 percent after it was blocked."

The MEAA said that rights holders should not have to pay the cost to ISPs to block those websites because it was "part of the routine costs of doing business."

The union, which also sought to join in on the original legal battle between rights holders and iiNet in 2010, acknowledged that some people will get around website blocked, but said that anything that makes copyright infringement more complicated will reduce its incidence.

The blocking of websites through injunctions has also had the conditional support of the Communications Alliance, and Communications Alliance member Telstra, in addition to rights-holder groups including the Copyright Council, and Music Rights Australia.

The use of technology such as virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass geoblocks to access content in the US that hasn't been opened in Australia, such as Netflix, or Hulu was not directly acknowledged in the government's initial discussion paper, but both consumer group Choice, and Electronic Frontier Foundation have called for the government to ensure Australians have the right to bypass geoblocks.

"To improve competition in the marketplace for lawfully-distributed content, the government should act to limit the use of geographical blocks that prevent Australians from accessing lawful content, whether that content is freely distributed (for example on YouTube, where videos are frequently flagged as 'unavailable in your region') or for payment (as in the case of Netflix)," EFF said in its submission.

Choice said that the right to circumvent geoblocks should be contained in the Copyright Act.

"Amend the Copyright Act 1968 to clarify that consumer circumvention of geoblocking is legal, and provide education as to how this may be done and whether it will affect consumers' rights under existing law."

Outspoken advocate for cracking down on piracy, Village Roadshow, also welcomed all of the government's proposals in its submission (PDF), including the implementation of a notice scheme, and the throttling of the download speeds on the accounts of repeat infringers.

The company said that copyright infringement is "spreading like a highly infectious disease", and should not be tolerated.

"The dangers posed by piracy are so great, the goal should be total eradication or zero tolerance. Just as there is no place on the internet for terrorism or paedophilia, there should be no place for theft that will impact the livelihoods of the 900,000 people whose security is protected by legitimate copyright," Village Roadshow said.

The company also called out iiNet for its "propaganda" in fighting against the government's proposals.

"The principal opposition to a rational approach dealing with theft comes from the propaganda machine of iiNet under the heading of 'Fighting For Our Customers'. Their propaganda defines disingenuous and should be headed 'Misleading Our Customers'."

Village Roadshow said it had referred iiNet's advocacy and encouragement for its customers to contact politicians on the issue to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for "misleading or deceptive conduct."

iiNet's own submission to the discussion paper has yet to be published by the Attorney-General's Department.

Josh Taylor is a member of the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance

Editorial standards