Privacy and internet freedom advocates have warned this week that the Federal Government's proposed site blocking Bill designed to crack down on sites like The Pirate Bay could also sweep VPN services up into the legislation, effectively banning their use in Australia. The head of the Australian Copyright Council has appeared in Sydney today to water down those concerns, saying that only certain VPN services should be blocked.
Speaking at a hearing into the Government's proposed site blocking Bill this morning, Fiona Phillips, executive director of the Copyright Council, said that while people may use VPNs to spoof their location to sites like Netflix or Hulu, that's not necessarily the sort of infringement the Copyright Council would want to pursue. Phillips said that she hoped all of her content industry counterparts agreed on the point that blocking Aussies from circumventing content geoblocks put in place by legitimate streaming services via VPN was not the point of the legislation.
She instead explained that the point of the legislation should about blocking access to sites like Kickass Torrents and The Pirate Bay, adding that it should also be about blocking VPN services that provide "a highway to the Pirate Bay".
Here's what she said when asked about VPNs:
"Copyright infringement in relation to VPNs can arise in two ways: one is in relation to the circumvention of geoblocks. We [the Copyright Council] say that in most instances, a geoblock is not going to be what's classed as a protection measure under the act. Circumventing [geoblocks] it is not a copyright issue. [Of course], if I have a license to access content in the US and I'm doing it in Australia, I'm infringing [copyright] it by accessing it. That is not the object of this legislation we can all agree. all the other things in the legislation make that apparent.
However, if i were to set up a VPN called 'Highway To Pirate Bay', that service could and should be the subject of the legislation in the same way the UK decision on Popcorn Time this week held up an app as...facilitating infringement. In that circumstance, a VPN would not be the ordinary target of the legislation but there might be some instances where that 'Highway To The Pirate Bay' may be caught.
None of the witnesses at the hearing, nor the two Senators asking questions of the panel, thought to mention that pretty much all VPN clients could be used to circumvent the Government's proposed site blocking technology to access sites like Kickass Torrents or The Pirate Bay. What I imagine the Copyright Council was getting at is cracking down on VPN clients which explicitly advertise themselves as ways to circumvent anti-piracy legislation.
The Copyright Council issued a fact finding paper (PDF) on VPN clients in January which sought to explain the clients and the varying ways in which they could be used to infringe on copyright and licensing conditions around the globe.
The hearing in Sydney continues today.