New Australian Copyright Law Could Hamper Whistleblowers, Others

Some might say the Australians are following suit from harsh measures introduced in the U.K. to crack down on certain kinds of Web privacy and other anonymity measures.

Now, reports show Australian legislators passing new anti-piracy and Web censorship legislation with the Copyright Amendment Bill of 2015.

How do experts describe this law? One basic element is that companies can appeal to courts to get international sites blocked, based on copyright infringement allegations. This will make it easier to take action against anyone for the perception of infringement, regardless of what they have actually done. That’s one reason why it has some legal experts concerned.

A Misleading Justification?australian-flag-1304120_1280

On the face of it, this new law and others would address the concerns of rampant copyright infringement that are evident on the streets of various countries around the world. For example, studios and other copyright holders in America have been beating the drums of piracy crackdowns for a long time, with bootlegging so pervasive in countries like China, and even in the European Union, that pirated movies and video content are commonly sold on the street on burned CDs and DVDs. In other words, piracy is all around us, and no matter how much anti-piracy stuff they show on American movies and tv shows, the black market thrives beyond U.S. borders. There’s just no real way to stop cross-border copyright infringement, without the specific participation of foreign governments, and that has been an issue that diplomats bring to the table, but on the global stage, not a lot has been done about it.

It’s easy to make that jump from common street bootlegging to copyright protection laws, but that’s not always a valid conclusion.

Nebulous Legislation

Legal experts looking at ‘copyright amendment bill 2015’ have said that there’s a lack of defining language in the law that can be extremely dangerous. What a lot of people are afraid of is that instead of targeting bootleggers, the new legislation will enable action against sites that are really trying to do something for the common good, for example, whistleblowing.

Almost any time that someone posts about corporate wrongdoing or similar issues on the Web, they could be said to be infringing on some sort of copyright, because the resources and documents they use may have copyrights attached to them. Another good example is the way that the Monsanto Corporation has acquired copyrights on seeds and natural designs. It will be easy to apply a wide-ranging anti-piracy law to innocent parties who are posting about things that Monsanto claims to control. In this case, it’s the broadness of the copyright itself that’s a major part of the problem. But either way, a loose law gives a lot of loopholes that unwitting web operators can fall into.

Outcomes of New Copyright Legislation

In the end, it’s likely that the new Australian law will be pretty ineffective, as users can get around a lot of the crackdown efforts just by using VPNs or Web proxies. The idea of international enforcement is pretty tough anyway, and the availability of Web privacy tools takes a lot of the teeth out of these types of lawmaking. However, these laws do clearly show the intent of governments, and the ways in which they propose to tackle the popular use of the Internet, a broadcasting medium that’s extremely diverse and decentralized. And how to tame the ‘Wild West’ of the Internet will be a guiding issue for the next hundred years. Individual citizens have to stay updated about what their governments are doing in the name of copyright protection, security or anything else, and then make their own judgements about whether those actions are right and just. There’s a movement toward critiquing the national policies that apply to people’s everyday lives, their livelihoods, and their privacy and human rights. It makes for a rather tricky math, and a lot of debate as we go forward into the future.

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