March 18, 2015
Even with web filtering, Australians won’t have much trouble finding their way to The Pirate Bay.
Even school children will laugh at the token gesture of blocking The Pirate Bay.
The pieces of Australia’s security and piracy crackdown continue to fall into place, with the Federal government about to table plans for a scheme which lets movie studios force internet service providers to block websites which aid piracy. The movie studios will apparently need a court order, but it may well just be a rubber stamp – it’s difficult to know how arduous this process will be until we see the plan.
The fact that the government has drafted this legislation without direct input from ISPs or copyright holders is a real concern – there was a consultation process last year but reportedly neither side is yet to see the wording of the Bill about to be put forward. This reinforces the impression that the government only cares about the demands of big businesss and has little interest in striking a balance with the needs of consumers.
UPDATE: This bill will now be introduced to the Parliament next week. It’s expected to be referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for review, which is would include a consultation process and submissions.
In return for legislation to protect Hollywood’s coffers, perhaps the government could demand that movie houses phase out the Australia Tax on digital content – actually backing up the tepid IT Pricing Enquiry with action. This would seem like a fair trade, but unfortunately consumer rights don’t come into the equation. A government which seems happy to leave our fate to market forces must surely realise that piracy is one of the few market forces which actually pressures content providers to offer us a better deal.
Market forces aside, it’s right to be concerned about this web filtering plan from a civil liberties perspective – even though it seems far less ambitious and wide-reaching than Conroy’s proposed filter. There’s always the danger of scope creep – especially if the legislation uses vague wording like “aids” piracy. This could cover anything from sites like WatchSeriesTV and The Pirate Bay to providers of virtual private networks and proxy servers. How long until it targets news articles about piracy?
Once copyright holders have an easy mechanism for blocking websites they don’t like, you can be sure that other lobby groups will make similar demands. Some politicians began calling for the expansion of Conroy’s filter while it was still on the drawing board. The same will happen again.
The flip side of the government’s filtering plan is that it will be ludicrously easy to bypass. Your average school kid can tell you how to use a proxy server to access Facebook in the classroom. The same basic tricks will easily get you to The Pirate Bay and other piracy sites blocked by your ISP.
Then there are virtual private networks, with a wide range of free and paid options that countless Australians already use – whether they’re dealing with sensitive work documents or simply sneaking into Netflix. Combined with this, sites like The Pirate Bay are rejigging their web hosting to help them bypass ISP-level filtering.
The government acknowledges that fighting piracy is a numbers game. You’re never going to stop everyone; the aim is to raise the bar high enough that your average person no longer thinks that it’s worth the effort and the risk. The problem with web filtering is that it’s a lot of effort for a little short-term gain.
Anyone with the technical know how to use BitTorrent probably already grasps the basics of VPNs and proxy servers. If not it won’t take long for them to get up to speed, turning to the same tech-savvy friends who introduced them to BitTorrent in the first place. In 12 months we’ll be back where we started, except everyday pirates will now be harder to catch. The best weapon against piracy is offering people a better deal so they don’t feel like they’re being ripped off.
Sacrificing civil liberties in a futile effort to protect the profits of companies which price-gouge Australians don’t sound like a recipe for success. What do you think is the best way for Australia to tackle digital piracy?