Last Monday was a dark day for Australian Internet surfers. The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, introduced into parliament by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in March to curb online piracy of film and TV shows, passed with the Coalition and Labor's support 37-13. In short, this new law allows the film and TV industry to block access to sites offering their content for free.
This debate about copyright is ongoing, but lawmakers in Australia just chose to censor the internet and give the dirty job to internet companies. The legislation allows rights holders to go to a Federal Court judge to get overseas websites, or "online locations", blocked that have the "primary purpose" of facilitating copyright infringement. If a rights holder is successful in their blocking request, Australian internet providers, such as Telstra and Optus, will need to comply with a judge's order by disabling access to the infringing location.
The film industry is of course rejoicing. "This is a watershed moment," said Simon Bush, head of the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association to the Sydney morning herald. But consumer groups and critics of the bill have argued the regime could go much further than intended, enabling rights holders to block sites that host legitimate files in addition to copyright-infringing content.
Dr Matthew Rimmer, an associate professor at the ANU College of Law and one of the bill's critics, labeled the bill "quite radical".
"It's a very dark day for the internet in Australia because there's been bipartisan support for this Luddite censorship bill," - Dr Matthew Rimmer.
He said sites that don't intend to host infringing material could get caught up and blocked, pointing to file-sharing sites like mega.co.nz and dropbox.com. Dr Rimmer added that there would be little oversight and balance in court cases given internet service providers won't have to pay court costs if they don't join cases to scrutinize them.
Australia Blocking history has already its demonstration of what’s perhaps in store for the future. In 2013, Federal government agency ASIC infamously blocked access to about 250,000 innocuous websites when it wanted to block just one fraudulent site. It did this by providing internet providers with the IP address of the server a fraudulent website was hosted on rather than the website's URL address. As the IP address hosted thousands of other sites, they were blocked too, and it only became apparent after months of pressure against ASIC before the reason was revealed.
Perhaps what is beyond the perception of law makers, Australian or not, is the fact that they are only pushing users to other paths of using the net. Users are easily solving such blockings of websites using solutions like our very own ZenMate plugin and premium pack. When doing so, they also upgrade their security through using encryption – the nightmare of governments. It seems like in a strange and cynical way, the Australian law makers are actually doing their surfing citizens a favor by pushing them into anonymity and more secured surfing.