Copyright industry buys its very own censorship regime

The Pirate Party condemns the passage of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 through both Houses of Parliament. The legislation means that Australia now joins a list of countries that allows individuals and companies to seek orders to censor websites they allege infringe copyright.

“Today we saw the payoff for rights holders such as Village Roadshow, who have poured over half a million dollars into the coffers of the major parties over the last financial year[1]. These donations show the influence of money on the direction of Australian politics, where censorship will now be employed to prop-up failing business models,” said Simon Frew, Deputy President of the Pirate Party. “This is at best a misguided attempt to protect rights holders from the ‘menace’ of piracy.

“This legislation does not address the underlying reasons why Australians are at the top of the list for online infringement,” Mr Frew continued. “Content for Australian audiences is often released weeks or months after other countries, and often at a higher price, in formats that make access inconvenient, or locked to devices they do not want to use. File-sharing websites provide timely access and often in high-quality formats that consumers can easily use.

“Most Australians are willing to pay if the price is reasonable, and access is both convenient and timely. You only have to look at the rapid uptake of Netflix since it became available in Australia two months ago to see this in action. Giving consumers what they want, when they want it, and at a reasonable price is the most effective way to tackle online copyright infringement.”

The Pirate Party is particularly concerned with the ambiguity of the treatment of virtual private networks (VPNs) by this legislation, and the refusal of major parties to agree to reasonable amendments to the legislation to ensure that these tools, essential to the privacy of many Australian citizens and businesses, will not be targeted. It remains unclear whether VPNs, which are widely used by businesses and individuals for a multitude of other purposes besides privacy, can be targeted by rights holders, although Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said VPNs are outside the scope of the legislation[2].

“This censorship regime — and blocking websites is definitely censorship — will result in a large uptake of VPNs and similar technologies that will allow consumers to navigate around the blockades. Getting around website blocking is trivial for anyone with the slightest motivation, and this could lead to a ‘virtual arms race’ where increasing numbers of sites are censored as consumers work around each new wave of censorship,” Mr Frew continued.

“Now that the Government and Opposition have acquiesced to the copyright industry, the temptation to succumb to other special interests and extend this framework into other areas is a real danger. The Australian Christian Lobby is already campaigning to extend copyright-based censorship into a system that provides a ‘default clean feed to protect children with opt-in for adults'[3] — in other words, parents cannot be trusted to responsibly manage their home Internet connections.”

“Despite being opposed to the Labor Party’s Internet filter legislation prior to the 2013 Federal Election, the Coalition Government has now rolled over and, with Labor’s support, implemented its own censorship regime. This, along with their record on data retention, shows that neither of the major parties can be trusted to look after the interests of the Australian community, especially when it comes to issues concerning the Internet or matters of free speech, privacy, or civil liberties. It is time Australians begin voting for alternatives who will stand up and look out for the interests of all Australians, not just the desires of corporations,” Mr Frew concluded.

Similar to its guide outlining how Australians can protect their privacy online in the face of mandatory data retention[4], the Pirate Party intends to shortly release a new guide on how Australians can protect themselves from this censorship regime.