Websites hosting pirated material would be blocked and internet service providers compelled to stop their users illegally downloading under proposals being floated by the Abbott government.
The federal government is proposing that internet service providers (ISPs), such as Telstra, Optus and iiNet, take measures to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement, according to a leaked copy of its discussion paper.
According to the document, first obtained by news website Crikey, the government also wants to give itself the power to prescribe specific measures that would see internet providers discourage online copyright infringement. This is in the cases where the industry does not develop effective schemes or commercial arrangements.
It is also proposing that universities be “captured” by the safe harbour scheme that currently governs internet service providers. This stipulates financial damages can be levied against carriage service providers who breach four categories, including providing connections to copyright material and referring users to an online location where it exists via a link.
In the document, signed by Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the government cited its unratified trade obligations with the US – known as the “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement” – to pursue its reforms.
“The government believes that even where an ISP does not have a direct power to prevent a person from doing a particular infringing act, there still may be reasonable steps that can be taken by the ISP to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement,” they wrote.
“Extending authorisation liability is essential to ensuring the existence of an effective legal framework that encourages industry cooperation and functions as originally intended, and is consistent with Australia’s international obligations.”
It essentially overrules a decision by the High Court in 2012, which found that internet service providers could not be found liable for authorising an act by a subscriber that infringes copyright.
The view peddled by the document is in stark contrast to what Mr Turnbull, a former executive at internet provider OzEmail, said in an ABC interview after the High Court ruling.
“I think the High Court came to the right decision and I really welcome it,” Mr Turnbull said at the time. “It is very, very, very difficult if not impossible for someone that is just selling connectivity, just providing bandwidth to then be monitoring what people are doing.”
Although the discussion paper hasn’t been released yet, a speedy response from industry and the public is expected, with submissions closing on August 25.
Comment is being sought from Senator Brandis and Mr Turnbull.
Village Roadshow chief Graham Burke told Fairfax Media in an interview on Friday that he welcomed what was written in the discussion paper.
“[I] applaud the fact that the government is making people like iiNet responsible,” he said.
In his view, sanctions should include slowing down the download speeds of those who infringe more than three times.
“That is no different to what iiNet do if people have bought a plan and have exceeded [the download limit]. They slow their speed down until they pay up,” Mr Burke said.
Senator Brandis first flagged a piracy crackdown in February, when he described the Copyright Act as “overly long, unnecessarily complex, often comically outdated and all too often, in its administration, pointlessly bureaucratic”.
Recently, Brandis stepped up the rhetoric and declared Australia the “worst offender” in the world when it came to online piracy.
“… I am very concerned that the legitimate rights and interests of rights holders and content creators are being compromised by that activity,” Senator Brandis said in Senate estimates hearings in Canberra. “We want to do something about that.”
Australia’s second largest internet service provider iiNet, which had been sued by the Hollywood studios in the High Court case, has previously lashed out at moves to make it and other providers the “internet police”.
iiNet called on Australians to write to politicians arguing against a piracy crackdown, which it said would likely result in increased charges for consumers through their internet provider, as it believed rights holders and government would not foot the costs.
The Australian Screen Association (ASA), previously known as the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, was one of the lead parties in the High Court case and tech news website ZDNet recent tallied that Village Roadshow, one of the group’s members, had donated close to $4 million to the Liberal and Labor parties since 1998. Village Roadshow donated $315,004 to the Liberal Party in the past financial year alone.
Correction: The article has been updated to clarify that Village Roadshow, a member of the Australian Screen Association, donated the $4 million to the Liberal and Labor parties and not the Australian Screen Association itself.