Why Australia's Site Blocking Law Sucks

Site blocking legislation designed to crack down on Aussie pirates passed through the Senate last night without a hitch. That's a problem, because the whole idea of blocking sites to stop piracy is a shitty one from the word go. Here's why.

Site Blocking Is Hazardous To Internet Freedom

Remember the proposed mandatory internet filter? The former Labor Government with Stephen Conroy as the Communications mouthpiece floated the idea of kicking "objectionable material" off the Australian internet.

It was a filter that was ripe for abuse by family and religious groups, simply because "objectionable content" is a legally broad term for material found online. After multiple attempts to ram it through the Parliament, Labor ultimately abandoned the idea, and we cheered as the idea was put back into the stupid box from whence it came.

Now we have a de facto internet filter under a different name thanks to site blocking legislation. Site blocking is the mandatory internet filter under a different name: it serves to block websites from Australian eyes, with little government oversight as to who is requesting the blocks.

It's a little stronger in that a court needs to approve a block on the grounds that a site is distributing pirate material, but who defines what pirate material is? Despite legal recommendations to the contrary, Australia still doesn't have fair use provisions in the Copyright Act. That means anything being distributed online without a licence from the original copyright owner could technically be regarded as piracy.

It's a dangerous law enacted by people who don't know what it could mean for internet freedom and net neutrality in Australia.


It Means We Still Don't Get The IT Pricing Inquiry Report

One of the many amendments proposed by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam during the Upper House debate yesterday was one that would have required the Coalition Government to release several key reports it has been sitting on for almost two years.

The amendment — which was voted down along with the rest — would have compelled the Government to release the IT Pricing Inquiry Report as well as a report from the Australian Law Reform Commission on copyright reform.

The amendment was voted down, which means those crucial reports won't be coming out of a drawer any time soon.


It Encourages Bad Behaviour From Rights Holders

Solving piracy in Australia (and indeed in any market around the world) is as simple as having a carrot and a stick for consumers.

The stick in this instance is site blocking legislation, which the rights holders will soon be given to wave around as they please. The carrot is releasing content on as many platforms as possible at a price that consumers are prepared to pay.

Rights holders have certainly been making concessions to allow their content onto new streaming services like Stan, Presto and Netflix Australia in recent months, but now that they have the stick they've always wanted, what's the incentive for them to give consumers the carrot?

It sets a dangerous precedent and encourages bad behaviour from rights holders.


It Advertises Pirate Sites

There's a concept called the Streisand Effect in play here.

Streisand Effect refers to the phenomenon that occurs when you try to shutter something from view on the internet: it only makes people want to see it more.

If you block pirate sites, it's creating hype around them meaning that people who didn't ordinarily know about these sites before are definitely going to want to take a look now.

Congratulations Government, you've just taken out a free legislative ad for every torrent site on the internet.

For what it's worth, here's a list of sites a UK court ordered ISPs to block under similar legislation (sourced from TorrentFreak):

watchseries.lt, Stream TV, Watchseries-online, Cucirca, Movie25, watchseries.to, Iwannawatch, Warez BB, Ice Films, Tehparadox, Heroturko, Scene Source,, Rapid Moviez, Iwatchonline, Los Movies, Isohunt, Torrentz.pro, Torrentbutler, IP Torrents, Sumotorrent, Torrent Day, Torrenting, BitSoup, TorrentBytes, Seventorrents, Torrents.fm, Yourbittorrent, Tor Movies , Demonoid, torrent.cd, Vertor, Rar BG, bittorrent.am, btdigg.org, btloft.com, bts.to, limetorrents.com, nowtorrents.com, picktorrent.com, seedpeer.me, torlock.com, torrentbit.net, torrentdb.li, torrentdownload.ws, torrentexpress.net, torrentfunk.com, torrentproject.com, torrentroom.com, torrents.net, torrentus.eu, torrentz.cd, torrentzap.com, vitorrent.org.Megashare, Viooz, Watch32, Zmovie, Solarmovie, Tubeplus, Primewire, Vodly, Watchfreemovies, Project-Free TV, Yify-Torrents, 1337x, Bitsnoop, Extratorrent, Monova, Torrentcrazy, Torrentdownloads, Torrentreactor, Torrentz, Ambp3, Beemp3, Bomb-mp3, Eemp3world, Filecrop, Filestube, Mp3juices, Mp3lemon, Mp3raid, Mp3skull, Newalbumreleases, Rapidlibrary, EZTV, FirstRowSports, Download4all, Movie2K, KickAssTorrents, Fenopy, H33T, Bursalagu, Fullsongs, Mega-Search, Mp3 Monkey, Mp3.li, Mp3Bear, MP3Boo, Mp3Clan, Mp3Olimp, MP3s.pl, Mp3soup, Mp3Truck, Musicaddict, My Free MP3, Plixid, RnBXclusive STAFA Band and The Pirate Bay.

Aren't you a little bit curious to click on some of those links now?

Exactly.


It Just Doesn't Work

On top of all that, it doesn't work from a technical standpoint either. By using a VPN, you effectively build another tunnel out to the internet that doesn't care if you navigate to a site like The Pirate Bay.

All you have to do is go back to countries that have tried this before like the UK to see that the Government is putting up a flyscreen to stop a hurricane with site blocking legislation.

When UK ISPs were ordered to block The Pirate Bay, traffic to the site doubled.

All site blocking legislation going to do is stop a few mum and dad pirates from doing something they probably thought was legal when their kids showed them. You're not about to stop pirates who know what they're doing.

Not in a million years.


VPNs Are Going To Get Their Day In The Legislative Sun

This one's a little more speculative, but go with me on this journey into the awful future.

We've already covered the fact that these laws require 10 minutes of re-jigging your router to get around thanks to a quick-fix VPN provider.

What happens when rights-holders figure this out, and wander back up the hill to Parliament House demanding the Government does something about them to crack down on piracy? Can't you see it right now? Prime Minister Tony Abbott standing up in front of six massive Australian flags at a press conference responding to a question about the use of VPNs in Australia.

The answer will go something like: "Well, ah, um. Look, the thing about, ah, VPNs is that, ah, you wouldn't be using them uh if you didn't have something to hide."

Bam: if you have something to hide, you're probably a child molester or a terrorist in the eyes of law enforcement agencies and politicians, and the next thing you know, VPNs are being scrutinised by the Government in the same way that your elderly grandparents scrutinise the Foxtel remote to figure out which one turns up the volume.

But the Government can't block VPNs for the same reason Netflix can't: they have a whole heap of legitimate uses, from tunnelling into your own corporate networks right through to legitimately wanting to protect your privacy from other idiotic laws like mandatory data retention.

And so, the Government will jump back on its bi-partisan high horse to play legislative whac-a-mole with the way the internet works in Australia, taking an axe to privacy, net neutrality and the whole idea of a free and open internet.

How do you feel about site blocking laws? Tell us in the comments!

Gesture hand image via Shutterstock

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