Turnbull introduces bill to block piracy websites

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Turnbull introduces bill to block piracy websites

Takes ownership of legislation from Brandis.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today introduced proposed laws to allow content owners to apply for websites faciliating online piracy to be blocked, taking over responsibility for the bill from Attorney-General George Brandis.

The Government today introduced its controversial Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill into the lower house, as first revealed by iTnews last week.

Its introduction comes amidst heated debate on the Government's data retention bill, which - despite criticism from industry, privacy groups and the Greens and independent MPs - will likely become law this week after gaining the support of the Labor party.

The online copyright bill will amend the Copyright Act to allow rights holders to apply for overseas websites used for downloading and uploading copyright infringing content to be blocked.

Content owners will not be restricted in the number of websites they can request be blocked in one injunction.

The bill also does not dictate how a website should be blocked, and similarly contains no mention of compensation for ISPs required to comply with the legislation.

It estimates compliance to the scheme would cost internet service providers $130,000 per year.

Owners of a website to be blocked will need to be notified under the current version of the bill, but the provision could be waived by a judge if the site owner in question is unable to be contacted.

A rights holder must prove the infringement is occuring in Australia, and a judge would need to find the site is "flagrantly" facilitating infringement locally before approving a blocking request.

A blocking request would only be granted if it is a "proportionate" response, the bill states.

Before granting a site blocking request, a judge must consider whether other jurisdictions have blocked the site and whether it is in the public interest to remove access to the site.

A judge will be able to limit the extent of time a site remains blocked, and may also revoke a block upon application.

It is unclear how a site block will be communicated to internet users.

A judge will hold sole responsibility for weighing up the public interest in blocking a website, the bill states.

"The factors to be taken into account set an intentionally high threshold test for satisfaction by the court," the bill states.

"The purpose of the scheme is to allow a specific and targeted remedy to prevent those online locations which flagrantly disregard the rights of copyright owners from facilitating access to infringing copyright content."

The copyright infringement bill will immediately be referred to a parliamentary committee for review. It is understood the committee will report in six weeks time.

Turnbull takes over

According to a consideration document for Coalition legislation last week - sighted by iTnews - the bill had previously fallen under the remit of Attorney-General George Brandis.

However, the bill will now be introduced by Turnbull.

It marks the second time Brandis has handed Turnbull responsibility for a controversial technology-related bill after the Communications Minister was forced to step into the data retention debate following a bungled interview on the subject by Brandis in August last year.

The Government's plans to tackle online copyright infringement were revealed last December, when the ISP industry was given four months to develop a code for tackling online piracy.

The Coalition also at the time promised to amend the Copyright Act to enable rights holders to apply for a court order to force ISPs to block access to non-Australian websites that had been proven to facilitate copyright infringement.

Turnbull has previously conceded that shutting down overseas file-sharing websites could result in a game of whack-a-mole - such was the case with The Pirate Bay, which reappeared under a different domain after the file-sharing site was pulled down in a Swedish raid.

The site-blocking scheme has been likened to online censorship by critics including consumer advocate group Choice and Pirate Party Australia, who argue it will create a filter that will allow the content industry to hit consumers with disproportionate penalties.

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