Australians should be prepared for threatening letters demanding they “pay up or else” for allegedly downloading movies online, following the Federal Court’s judgment in Dallas Buyers Club LLC v iiNet Ltd. The judgment, handed down this afternoon, means that Australians may soon be the target of “speculative invoicing” — sending letters that threaten legal action unless the alleged downloader pays a settlement figure.

Originally the respondent, iiNet, refused to hand over its customers’ details, believing they would be used as part of speculative invoicing, and its refusal prompted the litigation[1]. Although Justice Perram, in giving the judgment, reportedly stated that the letters will need to be cleared by the Court prior to issue[2], the Pirate Party remains concerned that this sets a dangerous precedent.

Pirate Party Secretary Daniel Judge commented: “This practice has been criticised strongly in the United Kingdom[3], and is predatory to say the least. Like scams, speculative invoicing targets thousands of people and extorts payment from the most vulnerable. In the UK, the accuracy of this approach in targeting people who actually infringed copyright has been criticised. Innocent users have been targeted as a result of the indiscriminate approach[4][5], and even copyright holder representatives have condemned speculative invoicing[6].”

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Today is a dark day for Australians and the Internet as the Labor Party caucus approves data retention[1] and the Coalition prepares to introduce misguided new legislation aimed at combatting online copyright infringement[2]. To encourage Australians to join us in fighting back, the Pirate Party is offering pay-what-you-want memberships with no minimum amount at http://pirateparty.org.au/join

Pirate Party Deputy President Simon Frew said: “The Government and the Opposition have effectively declared war on the Internet and war on our privacy. The Labor Party has rolled over on data retention, meaning all Australians will be subjected to mass surveillance until this appalling legislation is repealed.

“At the same time, legislation to give copyright holders an easy mechanism to get websites blocked will mean we are subjected to a censorship regime. The Government has opted for a long and pointless game of whack-a-mole — as soon as a site is blocked it will pop up in several new places and copyright infringement will continue.

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The Australian Government today announced it is going ahead with an ineffective “strategy” to “tackle” online copyright infringement, which puts a gun to the head of ISPs by requiring undue compromise with the copyright industry or face legislative regulation[1]. Despite being demonstrably futile, the Government will be pursuing both a notification scheme and court-ordered website blockades. The Pirate Party opposed both as neither will reduce infringement in Australia and do not address the more pressing issues of accessibility and affordability, instead targeting normal human behaviour[2].

It appears copyright holders will be able to request that an Internet service provider (ISP) sends an educational notice to an alleged infringer, with no actual penalty attached. Copyright holders will also be able to seek an injunction that requires ISPs to block access to websites that allegedly infringe copyright or facilitate infringement. Groups including “wifi providers” and “libraries” are also unreasonably expected to act as “copyright cops” according to an FAQ on the Minister for Communication’s website[3].

“This proposal is effectively the beginning of an Australian version of the failed US Stop Online Piracy Act. Notification schemes, graduated response schemes and website blocking do not work. They are costly, ineffective and disproportioned, as evidenced by academia and decisions of foreign courts. Fighting the Internet itself as opposed to solving the lack of convenient and affordable access does not work, nor does propping up business models that rely upon the control of content consumption in the digital environment,” commented Brendan Molloy, President of the Pirate Party.

These points have been refuted strongly by the Pirate Party and others in their submissions on the Government’s Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper. The efficacy of blocking websites was examined in a Dutch Court of Appeals case earlier this year, where the Court found there was insufficient evidence that blocking the Pirate Bay was effective at reducing copyright infringement and ordered that the blockade could be lifted. The Pirate Party arranged a translation of the judgment, which is available from the Pirate Party’s website[4].

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Proposals to allow copyright holders to seek injunctions that require Internet service providers (ISPs) to block subscribers’ access to allegedly infringing websites will allegedly be presented to the Federal Cabinet today[1]. Coincidentally, the Pirate Party is pleased to publish its recently-commissioned translation of a Dutch Court of Appeals case (ECLI:NL:GHDHA:2014:88) that casts significant doubt on the efficacy of blocking websites[2].

The Pirate Party arranged and crowdfunded a certified translation of the case involving two ISPs, Ziggo and XS4All, and Dutch anti-piracy association BREIN[3]. The translation was carried out by Sydney translation service Linguistico and the Pirate Party has published the translation under the Creative Commons Zero licence, allowing unrestricted use.

“Today the Pirate Party has demonstrated that it is willing to put its money where its mouth is and contribute to the commons. This translation is a significant piece of evidence that can be used to campaign against Internet censorship,” said Brendan Molloy, President of the Pirate Party.

“What this judgment makes exceedingly clear is that website blocking is ineffective and disproportionate for the many reasons we outlined in our submission[4] on the Government’s Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper.”

Many submissions to the inquiry, including the Pirate Party’s, argued that the discussion paper attempted to solve a problem that does not exist, while acknowledging yet overlooking the major issue of access to content.

“What is known to solve the ‘piracy problem’ is providing consumers with convenient, timely and affordable access to the content they wish to acquire, and these alleged proposals will regress Australian copyright, not progress it,” commented Mr Molloy. “Another look at the recommendations of the ALRC ‘Copyright and the digital economy’ review certainly wouldn’t go astray.”

The Pirate Party thanks all of the supporters who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign that made this important translation possible.

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/no-harsh-penalties-for-illicit-downloaders-under-copyright-reform-20141208-122rmj.html
[2] http://pirateparty.org.au/media/documents/ECLI_NL_GHDHA_2014_88_ENG_Ziggo_v_BREIN.pdf
[3] http://www.pozible.com/project/185899
[4] http://pirateparty.org.au/media/submissions/PPAU_2014_AGD_Online_Copyright_Infringement_DP.pdf

On Thursday, the Government introduced data retention legislation into the House of Representatives as the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014[1]. The AFP has confirmed, even before the legislation has been voted upon in Parliament, that data retention will be used for copyright enforcement[2]. The legislation also confirms that the exact location of mobile phone users will be stored as part of these provisions.

“There are far too many flaws in this legislation to enumerate,” said Brendan Molloy, President of the Pirate Party.

“There has been no discussion as to why the current retention order provisions are insufficient. This legislation is disproportionate and unnecessary. ‘Metadata’ is ill-defined in such a way as to contain so much information that it is effectively the content of the communication, insofar that it contains the context and location of all communications. This is a massive issue for journalists, whistleblowers, activists, and a whole host of other persons whose activities are in many cases legal but perhaps not in the interests of the state to let happen without some level of harassment.

“There are significant issues relating to cost and security of the data. Steve Dalby of iiNet said yesterday that iiNet would consider storing the data where it is the cheapest, which includes Chinese cloud providers. There will be a significant ‘surveillance tax’ introduced by retailers to cover the costs of storing this data that nobody wants stored.

“Now we have it admitted by the AFP today that this legislation will be used for something completely unrelated to national security: copyright enforcement. The legislation hasn’t passed and yet already the scope is creeping! They are taking away our right to free expression and privacy to protect the profits of a few large corporations.

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