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Australia passes controversial law to block 'pirate' sites

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Australia's senate has passed a controversial bill allowing sites hosted overseas that distribute pirated material to be blocked at the ISP level. But which sites to block is not up to the service providers to choose, instead movie and music studios and other rights holders can go to a federal court and demand sites whose "primary purpose" is the illegal sharing of copyrighted material be blocked by the country's ISPs. For obvious reasons, the providers are not particularly happy with the result of the vote. Especially since it's not clear who will be footing the bill for any costs associated with blocking the sites. But those internet companies had plenty of allies in the battle against the bill, including the country's green party. But the coalition wasn't enough to fight off the entertainment industry.

One of the biggest problems cited by critics of the bill is a lack of clear definitions and measures to prevent abuse. What constitutes "primary purpose" is not established in clear terms by the law (which you can read here) nor does it spell out what acts or services qualify as "facilitating" copyright infringement.

Many are concerned that studios and the government will use the law to block sites that happen to host illegal content, like Dropbox, even if that isn't their "primary purpose." And there is room for things to go horribly wrong even when targeting legitimate piracy. Need evidence? In the summer of 2014 the Australian Securities and Investments Commission revealed that it had accidentally blocked over 250,000 harmless sites because its staff fundamentally misunderstood how IP addresses and the internet work.

[Image credit: Shutterstock]

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