A controversial bill to allow websites to be censored has been passed by both houses of the Australian parliament. The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 allows companies to go to a Federal Court judge to get overseas sites blocked if their “primary purpose” is facilitating copyright infringement.
Dr Matthew Rimmer, an associate professor at the Australian National University College of Law, points out that there is a lack of definitions within the bill: “What is ‘primary purpose’? There’s no definition. What is ‘facilitation’? Again, there’s no definition.” That’s dangerous, he believes, because it could lead to “collateral damage,” whereby sites that don’t intend to hosting infringing material are blocked because a court might rule they were covered anyway. Moreover, Rimmer told The Sydney Morning Herald that controversial material of the kind released by WikiLeaks is often under copyright, which means that the new law could be used to censor information that was embarrassing, but in the public interest.
The bill passed easily in both houses thanks to bipartisan support from the Liberal and Labor parties: only the Australian Greens put up any fight against it. Bernard Keane explains in an article on Crikey that the main argument for the new law—that it would save Australian jobs—is completely bogus. Claims that film piracy was costing 6100 jobs every year don’t stand up to scrutiny: “If piracy were going to destroy 6000 jobs in the arts sector every year, why is employment in the specific sub-sector that according to the copyright industry is the one directly affected by piracy now 31,000, compared to 24,000 in 2011?” Keane asks.
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