17 April 2015
A new law being considered by the Federal Senate may be used to block Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that allow Australians to shop online to save money or purchase content not available domestically.
The news comes following revelations from Wikileaks today that Sony has been lobbying Netflix to prevent users from navigating to its international sites to access content.
The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 would set up a process to allow companies to apply for blocks on overseas websites they consider to be infringing their copyright, essentially establishing an industry-run internet filter.
“This Bill won’t just block online piracy sites; it could allow companies to prevent Australian access to competitor sites in other countries,” says CHOICE Campaigns Manager Erin Turner.
In a submission, CHOICE raises concerns that the law will allow industry groups to block consumers from accessing Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and purchasing cheaper content in overseas stores.
“We know that at least 684,000 Australian Households already save money and get better deals by accessing overseas content using tools like a VPN,” says Ms Turner.
“The current drafting of this industry-run internet filter Bill doesn’t stop pirates; it’s looking to stop anyone who doesn’t want a Foxtel subscription.”
“Currently, the law is far from clear when it comes to whether using a VPN to access a legitimate service like US-based Hulu is legal or not.”
“The Minister for Communications, who is championing this filter bill, says that it’s legal to use a VPN, but rights holder lobbyists insist it isn’t – and they’ll be the ones launching action to block websites and online tools under the new law.”
“If the Government thinks there’s nothing wrong with using a VPN to access competitive overseas markets, they need to make sure this law doesn’t inadvertently give rights holders a free kick at blocking consumers from the websites that offer VPNs.”
The proposed Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 states that the Federal Court will be able to grant an injunction application by a rights holder requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disable access to websites that exist for the primary purpose of facilitating copyright infringement.
“What this Bill does is give a powerful industry the reins, letting them decide what the Australian internet looks like. It’s an absurd idea, and worse, it’s unlikely to stop piracy.”
“Unlawful downloading comes down to availability, timeliness and affordability. Industry needs to recognise this and address it, rather than play an expensive game of whack-a-mole with websites.”
CHOICE is calling on Parliament to ensure the bill, if passed, provides adequate safeguards for the public interest, including:
- Exclusion of websites that merely “facilitate” online copyright infringement;
- Assurance that using a VPN to circumvent a geoblock and access legitimate content does not infringe copyright; and
- Provisions to enable public interest and consumer advocates to effectively take part in injunction proceedings, including in applications to revoke or vary an order.
 CHOICE research 2014.