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Foxtel moves to block piracy websites

Rights holders are finally moving to leverage the piracy site-blocking legislation passed by the Australian government last year.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australian pay TV provider Foxtel is moving to block piracy websites through the Federal Court under the piracy site-blocking legislation that both houses of parliament passed in mid-2015.

ZDNet understands that Foxtel's primary target is The Pirate Bay, and that the pay TV provider expects the block to come through by the end of Friday.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 allows rights holders, such as Foxtel, to obtain a court order to block websites hosted overseas that are deemed to contain copyright-infringing material or facilitate user access to copyright-infringement material.

"Foxtel intends to use the legislation to block the piracy websites, and expects to do this in a very short time," a Foxtel spokesperson told ZDNet.

Under the legislation, whenever a website is blocked by the Federal Court, a landing page will need to be hosted informing any would-be copyright infringers about the block, and providing information on where legitimate content can be found.

Educating the consumer on piracy is the stated purpose of the law.

"We need to be able to educate people both on the dangers and problems that piracy causes, and the legitimate means by which it can be achieved," Bruce Meagher, director of Corporate Affairs at Foxtel, said in August last year during a Communications Alliance panel on copyright infringement.

Meagher added that in order to achieve this, "The landing page is very, very important."

During the same panel, Gary Smith, Optus head of regulatory compliance and affairs and chair of Working Committee 66, which developed the three-strikes piracy code, flagged that the government has not specified whether it would be a single blocking page redirected from all blocked sites or many landing pages, who would host the landing pages, who would contribute to the cost of hosting those landing pages, or how long a block would need to be in place.

Costs were also not determined prior to the passage of the law, with the government not ordering a cost-benefit analysis nor detailing who would bear the costs of implementing the scheme.

It has been projected to cost ISPs more than AU$130,000 per year to implement.

Reports have also emerged that Village Roadshow is seeking to block piracy website Solarmovie.ph under the same legislation, with Roadshow Films filing an application against Telstra in the Federal Court at midday on Thursday.

Laurie Patton, CEO of Internet Australia, argued that site-blocking legislation will do little to combat copyright infringement, criticising Village Roadshow's heavy-handed move.

"No one I know has heard of Solarmovie. They've just had the best free publicity they never hoped for," Patton argued in a statement.

"Not only will site blocking not stop unlawful downloading, it will cause inconvenience to ISPs and additional operating costs that will inevitably be passed on to consumers."

Questions surrounding costs are particularly pertinent after research [PDF] released last year by the Department of Communications revealed that only 21 percent of respondents said an education notice would prevent them from consuming copyrighted content for free.

Respondents to the survey said the primary factors that would stop them from infringing in the future are a decrease in the cost of legal content, the availability of legal content, and the simultaneous release of content in Australia alongside the rest of the world.

"These results suggest that while there is a role for a copyright notice scheme code in Australia to assist in fighting infringement, more work needs to be done to make legal content more affordable and more available, to combat the root causes of infringing activity," Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton said in July.

"The widespread pattern of online infringement in Australia, indicated by the research, underlines the fact that rights holders -- as indicated by the government -- should be ready to pay the majority of the costs of operating a copyright notice scheme, given the enormous financial upside that will flow to rights holders from changing the behaviour of online infringers."

The research by the Australian Department of Communications also revealed that users who consume paid content in addition to downloading copyright-infringing content actually spend more than users who consume only non-infringing content -- meaning the piracy code could be counter-intuitive.

"Rights holders' most powerful tool to combat online copyright infringement is making content accessible, timely, and affordable to consumers," Australian Prime Minister Turnbull conceded last year.

ZDNet's sister site CNET has reported that Village Roadshow also confirmed that the three-strikes scheme has been shelved.

In related piracy news, last month Dallas Buyers Club (DBC) abandoned its Federal Court case to claim damages from the almost 5,000 people who allegedly infringed on the studio's copyright by downloading the film of the same name.

Justice Nye Perram, who initially ruled in favour of DBC recovering damages from the 4,726 people who allegedly infringed on the studio's copyright by downloading the film of the same name, put in place a sufficient number of limitations to ensure that rights holders could not claim "untenable" damages in such cases.

The decision could potentially cement the Federal Court's methodology in calculating damages for online copyright infringers.

Updated at 4.15pm AEDT, February 18: Added information about Roadshow Films filing an application against Telstra.

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