Brandis prepares to introduce site blocking legislation

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Brandis prepares to introduce site blocking legislation

Updated: ISPs not consulted.

The federal government plans to introduce legislation next week allowing content owners to apply for court orders to force internet service providers to block overseas file-sharing websites.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill - led by Attorney-General George Brandis - was today cleared for introduction into parliament by the Coalition.

A spokesperson for Brandis confirmed the bill would be introduced next week, and was expected to be referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for review.

"There will be adequate time for consultation and for people to make submissions throughout this process," the spokesperson said. The legislation had been expected to arrive this week.

The bill - the text of which is yet to be made public - will facilitate the blocking of overseas websites used for downloading and uploading copyright infringing content.

John Stanton, CEO of telco industry body the Communications Alliance, said it was "disappointing" that the industry had not been consulted on the bill prior to its impending introduction.

Simon Bush, head of the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association, confirmed rights holders had also not seen a copy of the draft legislation, but said both parties was aware it was coming.

The draft legislation forms part of the Government's crackdown on copyright infringement, announced last year.

Last December the ISP industry was given four months to develop a code for tackling online copyright infringement or risk having one forced upon it through legislation.

The Government at the same time said it would also amend the Copyright Act to enable rights holders to apply for a court order requiring ISPs to block access to non-Australian websites that had been proven to provide access to infringing content.

"The power will only apply to websites outside Australia as rights holders are not prevented from taking direct action against websites operated within Australia," the Government said at the time.

Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the time said such an approach was the "least burdensome and most flexible way" to address online copyright infringement.

They claimed rights holders had made efforts to improve content availability and affordability in recent times, but Australians were still downloading content without paying.

Turnbull also at the time conceded that shutting down overseas file-sharing websites could result in a game of whack-a-mole - evident through the reappearance of The Pirate Bay under a different domain after the file-sharing site was pulled down in a Swedish raid.

"If you are asking me is it possible for .. The Pirate Bay to then move to another IP address or another URL, of course that is true," Turnbull said at the time.

"There's no silver bullet here. There's a whole range of solutions and tools both on the side of the ISPs and on the side of the rights owners that will materially mitigate copyright infringement."

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.

Time running out for copyright code

ISPs and content owners have only several weeks left to reach agreement on the most contentious element of the industry code to tackle copyright infringement: cost.

Last month the two parties said they had come to agreement on the foundations for the three-strikes scheme, but were still working through who should foot the bill for its operation.

Stanton today told iTnews the parties were inching closer to resolution on the issue.

He said the "chasm" that had existed between the two parties during similar discussions in 2012 was now more of a "ravine" the ISP industry was hoping it could jump over.

Updated 18/3: To reflect the confirmed date of the legislation's introduction.

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