Section 115a of Australia’s Copyright Act allows copyright holders to apply for injunctions that force ISPs to prevent subscribers from accessing ‘overseas online locations’ that facilitate access to infringing content.
The legislation has been used on a number of occasions since its adoption in 2015 and as a result, dozens of notorious pirate sites are now inaccessible via regular means. However, pirate sites are often quick to adapt, with mirrors, proxies and other sites popping up to reactivate access.
Additionally, search engines – Google in particular – provide a handy reference guide for those looking for these kinds of resources. The entertainment industries are therefore keen to plug this loophole, to ensure that their web-blocking efforts are as effective as possible. That has resulted in the publication today of proposed amendments to copyright law.
The aims of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2018 are fairly straightforward.
Where existing legislation compels ISPs to prevent access to sites listed in an injunction, the amendments attempt to deal with sites that “have started to provide access to the online location after the injunction is made”, meaning that subsequently appearing mirrors and proxies can be dealt with much more quickly.
Turning to the perceived problems with search engines, the amendments will allow rightsholders to apply for injunctions that will not only target infringing ‘online locations’ but also their appearance in search results.
Companies including Google will be required to “take such steps as the Court considers reasonable so as not to provide a search result that refers users to the online location.” Search providers will also be compelled to deal with the subsequent appearance of mirrors and proxies by ensuring that these don’t appear in search results either.
In a statement published this morning, the Department of Communications offered the following summary.
“The Copyright Amendment Bill will ensure a broader range of overseas websites and file-hosting services widely used for sharing music and movies are within the scope of the scheme, and provide a means for proxy and mirror pirate sites to be blocked quickly,” the statement reads.
“The amendments will also further empower copyright owners to seek Federal Court orders requiring search results for infringing sites.”
That search engines are being targeted in this manner is not a surprise. Entertainment industry groups everywhere believe that Google has become a key part of the piracy problem and rhetoric has at times been scathing, particularly in Australia where Village Roadshow chief and outspoken piracy critic Graham Burke has continually slammed the company.
In a TV interview with Sky News Australia yesterday, Burke said that site-blocking is working to an extent but is being undermined by the actions of Google.
“It’s been very effective because the traffic to the blocked sites is down 53% and that’s extremely gratifying. But it should be down 90% and the reason it’s not down 90% is because Google are saying ‘Hey, the front door’s been shut but hey folks, here’s the back door, we’ll lead you round to the backdoor’. In so doing, actually – in my view – they’re facilitating crime,” Burke said.
The Village Roadshow chief added that Google is helping people to circumvent the legislation of the Australian Government and is making it very easy for people to “break the will of the Australian Parliament and Australian courts.”
“If you Google in ‘Watch Mad Max Fury Road’ up will come a whole raft of pirate sites. [Google are] taking people to the proxies, to the mirror sites, of the pirates and they’re doing it unashamedly,” he said.
“Google have no interest in Australian jobs, Australian culture, and the Australian economy. They make protesting noises but it’s a sham.”
Google already and voluntarily demotes pirate sites in search results based on the number of DMCA notices it receives against them. However, should this legislation be adopted, it will be required to remove references to them completely following an injunction, at least in the Australia-facing parts of its service.