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Piracy site-blocking Bill clears Australian House

Legislation that would see copyright holders able to have sites blocked with a Federal Court injunction is one step closer to becoming law.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

A Bill that would require piracy sites to be blocked by Australian internet service providers (ISPs) following a Federal Court injunction cleared the Australian House of Representatives on Tuesday night.

The passage of the Bill through parliament was assured after Labor decided to support the Bill last week. The amendments recommended by the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee were adopted by the government and included in the legislation.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that while the site-blocking legislation is a good set of measures to tackle piracy, the timely availability of affordable content is key.

"When infringing sources of content are disrupted, this disruption will be most effective if Australian consumers have legitimate sources to turn to that provide content at competitive prices, and at the same time that it is available overseas," he said. "Furthermore, the industry code negotiated by internet service providers and rights holders is intended to provide a mechanism to inform Australian consumers of legitimate sources of content."

Turnbull reiterated that the legislation is not intended to block virtual private network (VPN) operators.

"VPNs have a wide range of legitimate purposes, not least of which is the preservation of privacy -- something which every citizen is entitled to secure for themselves -- and they have no oversight, control, or influence over their customers' activities," Turnbull said.

Due to the fact that the Bill sets out to block sites where the primary purpose, as determined by the Federal Court, is piracy, the minister said sites such as Netflix would not be blocked.

"Where someone is using a VPN to access, for example, Netflix from the United States to get content in respect of which Netflix does not have an Australian licence, this Bill would not deal with that," he said. "If Australian rights owners have got issues about American sites selling content to Australians in respect of which they do not have Australian rights, they should take it up with them.

"The big boys can sort it out between themselves and leave the consumers out of it."

While supporting the passage of the Bill, Labor called on the government to respond to the recommendations of the IT pricing inquiry handed down in July 2013.

"We think it is unfortunate that this approach -- that is, this Bill -- favours a heavy-handed legislative approach ahead of market-based reforms such as those recommended by the House of Representatives inquiry into IT pricing, and also the recent final report of the federal government's competition policy review," said Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland. "I make the point that timely and affordable content is paramount in this case."

The Bill was introduced to Australian parliament in March, and is expected to cost ISPs over AU$130,000 each year to implement.

In an interview with ABC Radio National this morning, Turnbull said the cost for ISPs to implement the site blocks would be modest.

"The cost of compliance for them is relatively modest, and it's a cost of doing business -- assuming they don't contest the application in the court, they won't have to bear any of the legal costs," he said.

"The ISPs block sites now, they are asked to block sites by the AFP [Australian Federal Police], for example, if it is relating to child pornography or terrorism -- so the mechanism is there."

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