Telstra, TPG, Optus, iiNet, and the M2 Group will be required to disable access to The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt, and SolarMovie before the end of the year, following a ruling by the Australian Federal Court that internet service providers must take "reasonable steps to disable access" to sites that facilitate copyright infringement.
Content rights holders will be required to pay providers $50 per domain being blocked. Once a website is blocked, it will redirect subscribers to a landing page that explains the court's decision. If a website changes location, right holders are able to file an affidavit to get the new location blocked without the need for a full hearing.
The laws in questions - the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 - were passed by parliament in June last year. Foxtel and Village Roadshow were the first two local rights holders to test out the laws, with hearings kicking off this February.
When a rights holder wants a website blocked, they must make a request via the Federal Court. The decision will take into account the flagrancy of the infringement, whether the location demonstrates a disregard for copyright, public interest, and whether the location has been disabled by any other country.
Foxtel Chief Executive Peter Tonagh welcomed the court's decision to block The Pirate Bay, saying the judgement gives the company another tool to fight against "international criminals".
"Piracy does great damage to Australia’s content creating industries and we were delighted that the Government and Parliament recognised this by passing these new legislative provisions last year," said Tonagh. "This judgment is a major step in both directly combating piracy and educating the public that accessing content through these sites is not ok, in fact it is theft."
While right holders are understandably chuffed, Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton hit out at the decision, describing it as an pointless move.
"It looks to us more like a publicity stunt. It only affects a handful of the hundreds of ISPs and there are plenty of ways to get around it," said Patton. "International experience has shown site-blocking is more effective as a PR stunt than a realistic solution. You close them down and they reappear in no time on another site and/or with another name – it's called 'whack-a-mole'. What's more, anyone with a modicum of technical knowledge can always find a way to access what they want, lawfully or unlawfully."
While forcing a provider to block websites that facilitate piracy can make obtaining copyrighted content harder, it is only a minor hurdle for those dead-set on illegally downloading a TV show or movie. The use of a virtual private network (VPN), for example, can readily provide would-be pirates with access to any website blocked under the new laws.
These sentiments were echoed by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who told rights holders to "stop pretending the internet doesn't exist" when the laws were under debate in Senate last year.
"If people are determined to pirate, it's very difficult to stop them," said Ludlam. "The government is ignoring the opportunity to work with content providers and remove the reasons for people currently accessing content through torrents and other sources. Just deliver content in a timely and affordable manner, and piracy collapses."
"If you want people to stop people getting ripped off, make it available."
Shipwreck image from ShutterStock.