Scarcely a week after the release of a legislative committee report on Australia's copyright censorship bill, the bill is gathering speed on its roll through Parliament. Although reports that the law has already passed are premature—it has only passed the lower house so far, and is scheduled to be debated in the Senate on Thursday, Australian time—it is clear that the bill is being rushed through, in an effort to get it out of the way ahead of the Parliament's mid-winter break.
We addressed some of the serious shortcomings of the bill, which would allow courts to block overseas websites that either infringe copyright, or are merely judged to be “facilitating” infringement, in our submission in April:
As a bill purportedly meant to address copyright infringement, it is inevitably ineffective and offers little benefit. However its detriment is very clear, in that it further legitimizes the practice of website blocking. This will make it more difficult for Australia to take a stand against these practices when practised by authoritarian countries, and to resist pressure from domestic special interest groups to block more and more categories of content that they may find offensive or undesirable.
Since then the Senate committee has recommended a few minor tweaks to the bill and its non-binding Explanatory Memorandum, the most notable of which was to require a review of the scheme after two years. But its essential problems remain untouched, and EFF is far from being alone in its concern. In a dissenting report by Australian Greens Party Senator Scott Ludlum, he cogently points out that
there is also a significant weight of evidence showing that the Bill will not meet its aims, as it does not address the underlying cause of online copyright infringement: The continual refusal of offshore rights holders to make their content available in a timely, convenient and affordable manner to Australians.
Such logical arguments are however falling on the deaf ears of a government that is intent on appeasing the demands of copyright industry lobbyists to take some action, however token and ineffective, against the exaggerated threat that copyright infringement poses to Australia's content industries.
Public awareness of the impending censorship legislation remains relatively low, perhaps due to exhaustion or resignation following the public's loss in the related fights against Australia's graduated response code and mandatory data retention law. And, indeed, with the support of Australia's main opposition party for the bill, the prospects of users suffering yet another loss this week seems high.
But every vote against the bill in the Senate does still count, and if the tide is somehow to be turned, today is the day to do it. Australian consumer rights organization CHOICE has a contact form that Australians who live in an Australian electoral district can take to contact their representatives in opposition to these disproportionate and unnecessary Internet censorship plans.