Senate rejects amendments to site blocking laws

Federal parliament today rejected a series of amendments to its website blocking legislation aimed at tempering the controversial laws.

Greens party Senator Scott Ludlam, who championed the amendments in the Senate, sought changes to the wording of the bill to stop the laws from inadvertently overreaching their scope, particularly their potential to impact Virtual Private Network (VPN) services.

The new laws will let copyright owners apply to the federal court for orders requiring ISPs to block access to offshore “online locations” in cases where they can prove that their “primary purpose” is to “facilitate” copyright infringement.

The Greens amendments primarily sought to raise the legal bar for copyright owners by removing the courts’ ability to issued orders against sites on grounds that they facilitate piracy.

It also proposed that orders only be issued in cases where the conduct of the operators in helping online pirates was “flagrant”.

Senator Ludlam repeated arguments raised by some stakeholders that wording of the bill was too broad and that the additional flagrancy test was required to protect websites from unwarranted interference.

Commenting on the addition of the flagrancy test, Senator Ludlam said: “I don’t think that’s unreasonable and I think it’s a great shame that evidently this deal has been done outside this chambers and nobody from the major parties is inclined to consider this amendment”.

Senator Ludlam argued that Google’s search engine might in some cases be considered to be assisting piracy under the new laws.

However, Labor and Liberal and Senators argued that the primary purpose test would be sufficient prevent the laws overreaching their scope.

Attorney-General parliamentary secretary Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, gave assurances that VPNs would not need to be singled out for special attention in the legislation as they would also be weeded out by the primary purpose test.

Senator Ludlam had also sought changes to the laws allowing third parties to be heard injunction hearings as consumer protection measure. However, Labor and Liberal and Senators argued that the courts were capable of balancing consumer interests in their decisions.

They also argued that the bill already contained provisions that would give governments discretion to appoint the head of a public interest group to intervene to limit or rescind an injunction.

The Senate rejected the amendments after passing the bill by 36 votes to 12 earlier in the day. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, introduced the bill to parliament in March and immediately referred to a parliamentary committee for public consultation.

The committee found that it would it cost ISPs around $130,000 per year to comply with the new laws but recommended they be passed with minor amendments.

The lower house passed the legislation last week after it received bi-partisan support from Labor and the Coalition, all but ensuring the enactment of the new laws.

Labor’s support, however, was not unqualified. Labor called on Attorney-General Senator George Brandis to stick to commitments he made last November to respond to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) report on copyright in the digital economy and the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications’ inquiry into IT Pricing by September 17.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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