Copyright holders who demanded a rapid introduction of site-blocking legislation in Australia are coming under fire for not presenting their first cases quickly enough. Under intense pressure the country introduced a new legal framework in June but six weeks on and the first site-blocking complaint is said to remain at the "legal advice" stage.
When entertainment industry groups speak publicly of the piracy situation, the rhetoric suggests that the sky is falling, that the very future of the business is at risk if something isn’t done quickly.
In truth it’s been that way for more than 30 years but that doesn’t stop successive governments in countries around the globe taking the threats seriously. And considering the size of the entertainment industries and the influence of those running them, it’s not difficult to see why.
In Australia, calls to do something about the “scumbag theft” carried out by “copyright bandits” have escalated to almost fever pitch in recent years, with 2014 seeing the most concerted effort yet to crack down on file-sharers and the sites they use.
In response, Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked the Cabinet to develop legislation which would allow ‘pirate’ sites to be blocked by ISPs. In March 2015 the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 was introduced and after just three months of consideration by parliament, the legislation was passed into law.
Considering the demands for dramatic and urgent action, one might think that rightsholders would be already queuing up to have the first sites blocked. But according to a report from ABC, that point is still a long way off.
While it appears that pay TV company Foxtel will be the pioneer of the very first legal case under the new legislation (probably against a big player such as The Pirate Bay), the timescale for implementation being quoted by the company is not a matter of weeks, but loosely described as arriving “in the coming months”.
The fact that Foxtel is still at the “legal advice” stage on “how best to put the legislation into effect” has upset critics, who believe that rightsholders may have overstated the need for urgent new laws.
“We are astounded, given the urgency with which this law was passed at the urging of the rights holders, that so far they haven’t bothered to use it,” says Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton.
“We would have thought that they’d have a raft of cases ready to go if the problem is that critical.”
While six weeks might appear to be a reasonable amount of time to put a case together (the legislation was passed June 26), it’s worth bearing in mind that the first blocking cases to be brought in any region have always been the most important. Their implications stretch far beyond blocking a single site.
Although each case will be different to some extent, the first case – if presented correctly – will provide a template for subsequent cases, saving rightsholders (and the courts) lots of time and money in the long run. Getting the system running smoothly from the start will be a key priority so it’s no surprise that Foxtel aren’t already waiting at the doors of the court.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of things to be done and according to John Stanton from the Communications Alliance, Australia’s ISPs still haven’t been consulted on the basics of what will need to be done following any injunction.
“ISPs hope that if applications are to be lodged, rights holders will discuss them in advance with ISPs, to provide an opportunity for some shared understanding on logistical and other issues,” Stanton says.
“These issues including timing, the provision by rights holders of a landing page to inform internet users why a website has been blocked, discussion of the various technical options for website blocking and the planned breadth of an application.”
Considering the importance of ISPs to the success of site-blocking, not having included or consulted them thus far is somewhat of a mystery and perhaps indicative of how far from presenting its first case Foxtel is.
Still, with years of training behind them in respect of geo-unblocking services such as Netflix, it could very well be that the introduction of the first site blockade will have a minimum of impact on Aussies anyway – whether it arrives in the next few weeks or in distant months.