Site-blocking is not the solution to illegal downloading

Digital Rights Watch have expressed their concern over a Federal Court ruling that Australian ISPs must block access to 61 domains registered by file-sharing websites The Pirate Bay, IsoHunt, TorrentHound and Torrentz.

“This kind of simplistic site-blocking is not the solution to illegal downloading. In the 17 years since Napster, one of the first file-sharing services, punitive legal responses are yet to be proven effective at reducing rates of infringement,” said Deputy Chair of Digital Rights Watch, Dr Nicolas Suzor.

The Australian Federal Court ruled yesterday that Australian-based internet service providers must take “reasonable steps” to stop customers accessing the file-sharing websites.

“This is likely going to be nothing more than a symbolic victory for copyright owners. The experience from overseas shows how easy it is for a site such as The Pirate Bay to change its address faster than courts can keep up. It’s also increasingly easy for consumers to use VPNs and proxies to access the sites through private and secure connections.”

“We do remain concerned that the Australian site-blocking law is very broad in scope. Section 115A empowers the Federal Court to require an ISP to block access to a foreign website whose “primary purpose” is to “facilitate” copyright infringement. But these words are not defined in the Act or in existing case law.”

“Importantly, the court refused a request that the ISPs be required to ban new domains or IP addresses as they pop up, otherwise known as the ‘whack-a-mole’ problem. This is a win for due process, because it ensures that the court maintains control,” he said.

“We need to accept that stricter copyright laws are not the most effective way to address copyright infringement,” said Dr Suzor.

“Consumer research shows that illegal downloading occurs because consumers lack cheap, easy, accessible channels to access content legitimately. The problem is that constraining access to illegal content through site-blocking does nothing to address the core motivations for infringement. Most Australians want to do the right thing – and generally, they are willing to pay for the content they want. This is evident from the large numbers of Australians who circumvent geo-blocking in order to access the US versions of paid services such as Netflix and iTunes.”

“Without this legitimate means of access, consumers feel they have no choice but to download the content illegally.”

“Instead of focusing on combattive legal proceedings, rights-holders should invest in innovative platforms that provide consumers with greater access to content in a timely manner at a fair price,” he concluded.