by Don Groves
Australian content creators have applauded the Australian government's latest crackdown on online pirates which gives creative industries even more powerful weapons to fight copyright infringement by overseas websites.
The Copyright Amendment Bill introduced in Parliament today 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.
Under the current legislation, the Federal Court can issue orders for Internet Service Providers to block access to infringing websites.
The amendments will ensure a broader range of overseas websites and file-hosting services widely used for sharing music and movies are within the scope of the scheme and provide a means for proxy and mirror pirate sites to be blocked quickly.
They will also enable copyright owners to seek Federal Court orders requiring search engines to demote or remove search results for infringing sites.
Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield, said Australia's website blocking scheme had been successful in reducing copyright infringement and these changes would further strengthen it.
"Online piracy is theft. Downloading or streaming a pirated movie or TV show is no different to stealing a DVD from a shop," he said.
"The government is providing enormous support to creative industries, including through small business tax relief and our Location Incentive program. We can't have that good work undone by allowing local creators to be victims of online piracy.
"We are always looking at what more we can do, and we want copyright owners to have the right tools at their disposal to fight online piracy."
Graham Burke, the Chairman of Creative Content Australia, commended the Minister for taking such direct and targeted action that will protect Australian jobs, way of life and tax-paying companies.
The biggest losers are the pirates in undisclosed locations whose business model is totally about scamming people by stealing their credit details, blocking and infecting computers with viruses," Burke said.
CCA's 2018 research study shows that search engines are the primary way for people to find pirate content sites, even when they were not necessarily seeking infringing content. Fifty percent of piracy searches use auto-complete suggestions to find suitable links to access illegal content.
CCA Executive Director, Lori Flekser said: "While previous site blocking legislation had shut the 'front door' access to copyright infringing content, search engines consistently provided 'back door' access by promoting proxy and mirror sites."
Site blocking in Australia has reduced Australian usage of websites targeted by the blocking orders by 53.4% since December 2016, when the blocking regime began. Usage decreased for each blocking wave implemented in the country.
"The amendments introduced today are a welcome relief to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who earn their livelihood from the production, distribution and exhibition of creative content," she added.
Australian film and TV bodies welcomed the measure. Paul Wiegard, president of the Australian Independent Distributors Association, said: "Site blocking is the most effective remedy available to content creators in Australia today, but piracy continues to cause significant harm to creators."
Paul Muller, CEO of the Australian Screen Association, added: "Site blocking has proven to be an effective tool, resulting in a 25% reduction in piracy volume in Australia, but there are weaknesses that need to be addressed. Some of the bigger blocked online locations continue to attract hundreds of thousands of page views through the use of proxies and alternative domains. This bill however, will go a long way to address and will help to reduce copyright infringement even further."
Free TV Australia CEO Bridget Fair said: “Crucially the legislation is also a significant step in holding Google to account for its role in facilitating online piracy. Under the legislation, content owners can seek orders requiring search engines to demote or remove search results for infringing sites.
Free TV is continuing to engage with the government and the ACCC on further measures to encourage Google and Facebook to proactively identify and remove pirated content.