Internet

First off the blocks: Village Roadshow preps site-blocking application for Federal Court

Rights holders have stayed relatively quiet since website-blocking legislation passed in June, but one of Australia's most vocal supporters of the scheme has announced it is preparing legal action against piracy sites.

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Village Roadshow will be one of the first rights holders to put new site-blocking laws to the test, confirming it is preparing an application to the Federal Court under the Government's anti-piracy legislation.

While the site-blocking laws came into effect in June, rights holders have held back from using the laws to shut off access to websites that "facilitate" piracy in Australia. But that is set to change.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 [PDF] allows copyright holders such as film studios and record labels to apply to the Federal Court for an injunction requiring Australian ISPs to block overseas websites ("online locations") facilitating piracy. The action must be brought by the owner of the copyright, and the court must be satisfied that the website's primary purpose is "to infringe, or to facilitate the infringement of, copyright."

With speculation building about who would be the first rights holder to enter the fray, the co-chairman and co-CEO of Village Roadshow, Graham Burke, has confirmed that his company is preparing a site-blocking application for court under section 115A of the new laws.

If successful, this legal action could mean that Australian Internet users attempting to access The Pirate Bay or similar websites are met with a court-ordered "landing page" instead of the website they're seeking.

Village Roadshow has long been a vocal supporter of site-blocking legislation, calling on the Government to intervene and put a stop to piracy in the name of Australian jobs and creative production.

"Continued rampant online piracy means the Australian film and television drama production industry would be shut down," Burke wrote in a submission to the committee reviewing the laws before they were passed.

"Pirate websites are widely reported to be run by criminal gangs who make millions of dollars by selling advertising," Burke wrote. "Unlike free or pay TV they create no content and provide no entertainment. They are leeches living off stolen product."

Never one to pull his punches, Burke added that "pirate sites are a sleazy neighbourhood which our children go to and they are selling hardcore pornography and scams such as party pills and steroids."

But opponents of site-blocking, including a handful of senators that opposed the bill, have warned that an ISP-level blocking of websites would amount to little more than an Australian "Internet filter."

As the laws reached the final stages of debate in the Senate before they were passed, Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm described the site-blocking legislation as "a drastic remedy and a blunt tool" that "aims to protect rights holders at everyone else's expense, which is not how the rule of law is supposed to work."

Senator Leyonhjelm was joined in his opposition by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam who branded the legislation dangerous.

"Does anyone seriously believe that this scheme won't be expanded in the future to cover more categories of content? Of course it will. It has scope creep absolutely built into it. It is lazy, and it is dangerous," said Ludlam.

While Village Roadshow is getting in early with legal action on site-blocking, the company is unlikely to be the last to head to the Federal Court. After the laws were passed in June, Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein spoke out in support of site-blocking.

"These offshore sites are not operated by noble spirits fighting for the freedom of the Internet, they are run by criminals who profit from stealing other people's creative endeavours," he said.

Foxtel later told the ABC in August that it was preparing to launch legal action "in the coming months" and that it was receiving legal advice on "how best to put the legislation into effect."