Australia's Gov't Starts Clock on ISPs' Anti-Piracy Code


Australia's government has presented the country’s ISPs with a 120-day deadline to create an industry code for blocking copyright infringing content. Failure to do so means the government will develop and impose one of its own. 

Federal communications minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis reached out to ISPs on Wednesday with a proposal that asks businesses to take both “reasonable steps” to deter online copyright infringement on their networks, and to do so in “a manner that is proportionate” to the infringement. 

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The code would also need to educate and inform consumers when copyright breaches occur. The government has set a deadline of April 8, 2015 for ISPs to find a common voice on the issue.

The government said it will also introduce legislation that will enable a court to order the blocking of overseas-hosted Websites that it says can be shown to be “primarily for the purpose of facilitating online copyright infringement.”

In the letter, Turnbull and Brandis note the Australian government “recognizes that addressing online copyright infringement is a complex task with shared responsibility between rights holders... ISPs and consumers. We also appreciate that this is a dynamic issue, affected by changing technology and consumer behaviour. As such, the government has sought the least burdensome and most flexible way of responding to concerns about online copyright infringement, while protecting the legitimate interests of the rights holders in the protection of their intellectual property.”

The letter continues, “We will be working closely with other countries to get a better understanding of levels of online copyright infringement and the effectiveness of different approaches to respond to the problem.” The code and law changes will be reviewed after 18 months. 

It's no secret; Australia has had a piracy problem. The country has the dubious honor of leading the world in illegal downloads of Game of Thrones, the world’s most pirated show. Australia accounted for 11.6% of the global total of downloads of the HBO hit, according to a sample studied by file-sharing monitor TorrentFreak earlier in the year. 

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Australia’s recorded music market last slumped by 8.4 per cent last year, according to the IFPI, though digital revenue grew by 5.6 per cent, a sum not great enough to offset tumbling sales of CDs. Many in the industry have blamed piracy for the erosion of music sales. Though not everyone buys the bad news. Thanks in part to the rise of streaming services, piracy is trending down both in terms of volume and population, Will Page, director of economics at Spotify, told delegates on the opening morning of the 2014 Bigsound conference. His findings were the result of a collaboration with independent analytics company MusicMetric. 

The government’s latest proposals were almost immediately shot down by consumer rights advocates Choice. “Outsourcing the piracy crackdown to industry is far from a soft option, because it carries the potential for serious sanctions against consumers including internet disconnection,” says Choice CEO Alan Kirkland. “And it’s far from an effective option, because it ignores the two biggest reasons Australians infringe online copyright -- price and availability.”

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A parliamentary inquiry last year agreed with Kirkland's sentiment -- that pricing of digital products was a real problem. Following 12 months of fact-gathering, the inquiry found that, among other concerns, iTunes customers Down Under sometimes paid 67% more for their music than their counterparts did in the United States. One of the recommendations of the inquiry was that consumers find ways to legally bypass geo-blocking technology to find a better deal.

Brandis has made reform of the country’s Copyright Act a personal priority and he’s never ruled out a “graduated response” to combat online piracy. The government, he said earlier this year, would mull over “possible mechanisms” to provide a “legal incentive” for ISPs to co-operate with copyright owners in preventing infringement on their systems and networks.


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