Australia's Piracy Site Blocking Tech Would Redirect Pirates To That Crappy Digital Content Guide

Australia's site blocking Bill designed to combat piracy passed the Lower House of Parliament this week, and more details are starting to emerge about how it will actually work in practice. According to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, people looking to use The Pirate Bay in Australia will soon be dumped onto a sub-par content guide that "shows" users where to get legitimate content.

In a radio interview yesterday, Turnbull spruiked the passage of the Bill, before revealing how it might work when someone tries to visit a blocked site:

So if someone goes to a Pirate Bay to download content without paying for it instead they will be directed to a landing page which will point out that there are plenty pf places that you can get content online and pay for it, whether it’s Presto or Stan or Netflix or iTunes and so forth.

Presumably, Turnbull is talking about the Digital Content Guide, launched back in August 2014.

The Digital Content Guide is a massive collaboration between Foxtel, Village Roadshow, News Corp, APRA-AMCOS and other media rights-holders designed to host all the legal streaming content available to Australian users.

It's a pretty simple concept — a website that operates as a one-stop-shop listing of Australia's legitimate digital sources of movies and TV shows, music, games, ebooks and sporting content. In each category, it drills down into sub-categories — for movies, you can choose to rent, download to buy, or watch via subscription.

Each icon in the grid points to a website for a legitimate media service either run by or licenced by rights-holders. Interestingly, Foxtel gets five bites at the cherry in the subscription TV section — you can choose from Foxtel Go, Foxtel Play, Foxtel On Demand, Presto, and vanilla Foxtel, alongside other options like the worldwide BBC iPlayer and Quickflix.

It's a noble concept, and one that Australia sorely needs, but the execution of the digital content aggregation site is still pretty crappy.

As pointed out by Lifehacker at launch, the site's search functionality is spotty at best, and lacks a detailed list of how much everything costs. As Angus Kidman points out:

Given the choice between a static list of providers whose costs aren’t known offered here and the ability to search for a specific show or episode and download it instantly which piracy promises, I suspect many people will continue do the easy thing rather than the ethical thing. Education has a part to play in combatting piracy, but this kindergarten-level approach isn’t going to help.

The site itself was built and is maintained by Music Rights Australia. At the moment, the Digital Content Guide is largely restricted to video and audio; ebooks is "coming soon" and the games section includes a few interesting choices like DLGamer.US, has previously sold content at international pricing in US dollars — presumably with none of that money making it back to Australian rights-holders.

Australia's site blocking Bill is a long time in the making, and finally passed the House Of Representatives on Tuesday evening.

The Bill would see sites dedicated to sharing pirate content blocked at the ISP-level in Australia. The Bill has been criticised by various internet freedom groups as a potential censorship tool.

There are other concerns about how easy it will be to circumvent the new piracy filter using a virtual private network or VPN tool to tunnel around it. Turnbull has said in the past that the site blocking protocol isn't designed to block VPNs, meaning that circumvention may be inevitable.

Circumvention possibilities aside, I actually think it's great that we're blocking pirate sites — there's no excuse for piracy these days with so many streaming options available — but isn't dumping people into a broken content guide only going to make them want to pirate content even more?

Campbell Simpson also contributed to this article.

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