Industry warns site blocking could have unintended consequences

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Industry warns site blocking could have unintended consequences

Highlight need to avoid ASIC blunder.

Australia's internet and telecommunications industries have warned the Government's plan to allow content holders to apply for piracy websites to be blocked could have negative unintended consequences.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today introduced the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill into the lower house.

The 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.

The Communications Alliance and the Internet Society of Australia - representative groups of the telco and internet industries - separately said their constituents had not been consulted in the drafting of the bill and were today examining its contents for the first time.

Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton said the telco and ISP industry had given its "conditional support" for the initiative, but said site blocking was a "relatively blunt tool" that could result in collateral damage if not applied carefully.

The bill does not offer any guidelines for the technical method in which ISPs should block a website. 

“The bill should, for example, ensure that “online location” is precisely defined, to reduce the risk that websites may be unintentionally impacted when multiple websites reside under a single IP address or domain,” Stanton said.

Such an issue arose in 2013 when corporate regulator ASIC inadvertently blocked 250,000 websites in an attempt to block 1200.

It later revealed that its team responsible for using powers under section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to block websites had not been aware a single IP address could host multiple websites.

Stanton said the Government should also ensure ISPs were legally indemnified by rights holders against actions they are required to take to comply with a site-blocking ruling.

The Government estimates the site blocking scheme would cost internet service providers around $130,000 per year. It will not provide any compensation for compliance.

Stanton said the industry was not happy with having another cost forced upon it - adding to the hundreds of millions it will have to spend to comply with the Government's data retention scheme, as well as the Government-mandated industry code to tackle copyright infringement.

“We are yet to see the detail of this [$130,000] estimate but believe that additional cost for ISPs assisting the fight against copyright infringement should be avoided," Stanton said.

CEO of the Internet Society of Australia Laurie Patton labelled the site blocking bill "a little excessive".

 " .. so we've asked the Government to consult with us in order to make sure there are no negative unintended consequences," he said.

"We'd want to be sure cases can only proceed when there is a clear breach of copyright.

"Just because you've used something like BitTorrent doesn't automatically mean you've breached the Copyright Act."

Rights holders would need to prove to a judge that the "primary purpose" of the site in question was to faciliate copyright infringement.

Patton said the society had offered its technical advice to the Government to make sure MPs fully understood the bill's implications.

"It's important for Parliament to understand how the internet actually works or we risk flawed legislation like the data retention bill that ends up having to be amended at the last minute," he said.

The bill has been referred to a Senate committee review, which will undertake consultation with industry before reporting in six weeks.

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