Brandis brings piracy fight to Parliament

Site-blocking legislation will be tabled in Parliament within a week, meaning ISPs could soon be required to block overseas websites that facilitate piracy.

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Attorney-General George Brandis. Image by CeBIT Australia, CC BY 2.0

Australian internet users may soon find themselves locked out of certain overseas-based websites under Federal Government plans to introduce site-blocking legislation to combat piracy.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill has been drafted to allow rights holders to seek a court order in order to block overseas websites at an ISP level, provided rights holders can make the case that the website facilitates piracy.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General's Department confirmed that the legislation had been finalised and would be tabled in Parliament by the end of the current sitting period, due to finish next week.

"The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill will be introduced to the Parliament next week and is expected to be referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for review," the spokesperson said.

"There will be adequate time for consultation and for people to make submissions throughout this process."

The news comes off the back of a busy week in Parliament and for the telecommunications industry, with another major bill from the Attorney-General's Department to introduce mandatory data retention passing the lower house yesterday.

As with the data retention bill, this new legislation will increase regulation on internet service providers -- a move that some ISPs have said could lead to greater operational costs and playing games of "whack-a-mole" as they struggle to keep up with pirate sites popping up in new places online.

Site blocking was first put on the table in July last year, when a leaked discussion paper revealed a number of measures being considered by the Government to tackle piracy "in the interests of all" -- including rights holders and ISPs.

In addition to discussing overseas applications of three strikes schemes, the Government also proposed amendments to the Copyright Act allowing rights holders to obtain a court order requiring ISPs to block overseas websites that facilitate piracy.

The discussion paper was officially released at the end of July and opened for submissions from the industry, with ISPs offering provisional support for the proposed changes, despite lingering questions around costs.

Site-blocking laws were officially announced by Attorney-General Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in December 2014. While Mr Turnbull said the legislation was "the least burdensome and most flexible way of responding to concerns about online copyright infringement", he insisted that it was "not -- repeat, not -- an internet filter".

Alongside site-blocking legislation, the Government also in announced in December that ISPs and rights holders would be required to introduce a new anti-piracy industry code by April this year. This code was officially drafted and tabled in February 2015, outlining how three strikes would work in Australia to offer a graduated response to copyright infringers.