by Don Groves
The House of Representatives last week approved with bipartisan agreement amendments to copyright law which give courts and content owners more weapons to fight online copyright infringement.
The bill strengthens the website blocking scheme introduced in 2015 by allowing more pirate websites to be targeted and making it harder for pirates to circumvent blocking measures.
A broader range of overseas websites and file-hosting services widely used for sharing music and movies will be covered by the law. Proxy and mirror pirate sites can be blocked quickly and copyright owners will be able to seek Federal Court orders requiring search engines to demote or remove search results for infringing sites.
Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Families and Social Services, told Parliament: "The measures in this bill will strengthen our ability to fight online copyright infringement.
The legislation will allow the Federal Court to grant injunctions requiring online search engines to remove search results that refer users to an infringing online location. It will also provide for orders that ensure that some overseas online locations such 'cyberlockers', which share infringing music and movie files, are caught by the scheme."
The Federal Court will also have the power to issue injunctions to block an online location which offers other pathways without the need for the copyright owner to go back to the court.
"None of these measures will impede or affect the capacity for carriage service providers or search engine providers to voluntarily block or remove links to copyright infringing online locations. Indeed, if these voluntary arrangements are effective, injunctions are unlikely to be needed. However, these legislative changes provide an important fall-back should industry initiatives prove to be inadequate or ineffective," Fletcher said.
"There is still a proportion of Australian users who seek out infringing sites, and there are still pathways for them to get to these sites, including blocked sites."
Fletcher hailed Australian film, television and music as a major success story, noting the digital age has created opportunities for consumers to access content in new and different ways through providers such as Netflix, Stan and Spotify.
Australian films, TV shows and music are more accessible and cheaper than they have ever been and are available on a range of devices, at home, on the bus to work or travelling on holidays, he said.
"We can be very proud of the fact that Australia's creative industries are thriving and world class. Their contribution to the crucial fabric of our nation is enormously significant. Their contribution to our economy is also significant," he said.
"The bill would enable Australia's creative industries to take action to protect their rights and ensure the website blocking scheme is fit-for-purpose in the contemporary digital media environment", he added.
Labor enthusiastically supported the legislation. Mark Dreyfus, the Deputy Manager of Opposition Business, said:"Labor supports this bill because it will strengthen the current regime under which a court can make orders blocking access to websites that have the primary purpose, or the primary effect, of infringing copyright.
"Our musicians, our filmmakers, our TV production industry and our artists all contribute enormously to our society in both economic and cultural terms. The stories that Australians love most are our stories—stories about our nation, our history and our people. Whether on TV, on the big screen or in books, these stories are all produced by people who rely on copyright laws to protect their creative work. It is copyright laws that ensure that those in our creative industries are paid for the work that they do."
MPs Michelle Rowland and Graham Perrett echoed Labor's support.
Michelle Rowland, Member for Greenway said, "A successful copyright framework will support the education, arts, culture and heritage of Australia by including, developing and maintaining a national identity in the Australian creative industries; protecting the intellectual property rights of content creators; supporting new and emerging Australian creative talent; meeting consumer expectations of speed to market; securing the supply and diversity of Australian-produced intellectual property; promoting creative, competitive, sustainable and innovative Australian creative industries; and promoting exports of Australian creative product to foreign territories."
Graham Perrett, Opposition Whip, said, "The digital era is upon us, and it brings its own challenges for the creative industries and the artists who have input into them. I know the blood, sweat and tears that go into making a piece of creative work, whether it be a film, something on the screen or the small screen; on the page, like poetry or a book; or even through the airwaves. A small part of the author or the artist is left behind when they put out their piece of art.
It must be especially galling when a creative work is used without permission and without the appropriate payment to the artist and those who support the artist. Fundamentally, to do so is theft. But it also shows a lack of respect for the artists."
"We have such a wealth of talented writers in this country, but all of them struggle to make a living. It is so important that we protect their reward for the work that they do. Not all of them get to tell their stories to overseas audiences, so it's important that we protect every dollar that comes their way."