Australia has been something of a hot topic in the privacy and VPN world within recent months. After massive waves were made over hundreds of thousands of Australians accessing US Netflix, a law requiring ISPs to log metadata plus a whole host of other Aussie news you would think Australians had had their fair share of bad press recently, but it’s not quite finished yet.
Australia wants to block pirate sites
Last month the Australian government introduced a proposal that required ISPs to block Australians accessing pirate websites hosted outside the country. This in essence would mean that sites like The Pirate Bay, Kick Ass Torrents and other non-Australian pirate sites would be easily blocked if rights holders gained an injunction via the court system.
While all good in theory for rights owners, like any such law that has been introduced or mulled over worldwide there is always a downside and a way in which companies attempt to bend the original intention to better suit their plans or stifle the wits of users.
There has been a small rumbling that the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 intended to thwart pirate websites could be used to “inappropriately threaten” VPN users who access geo-restricted services. With Australian VPN use on the rise the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims has been reported as issuing a stark warning.
Abuse of legislation to block geo-restriction bypassing
Copyright holders need to be able to prove that the websites they are requesting to be blocked have a primary purpose of supplying illicit material. From this we can assume that any service such as a VPN which allows circumvention but is not necessarily intended for that purpose would fall outside of the legislation.
Rod Sims of the ACCC is not alone with Google and Choice lending their support to the concerned raised. The Australian Communications Minister has previously stated that using a VPN to access content that is geo-restricted is legal in Australia and with Australia having some pretty open parallel import laws it is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Parallel imports are imports of usually branded goods from cheaper countries from outside official distribution channels often referred to as grey-market goods. Unlike the EU, Australia allows such practises meaning circumvention of geo-restriction is likely to fall in with such an ethos.
While parallel imports are legal in Australia rights holders have in the past tried to ban such practises with the threat of legal action, it is this such situation that the ACCC chair Rod Sims is concerned about and how the new legislation would allow copyright holders to “intimidate consumers”.
The ACCC’s Sims said to the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the proposed legislation :
The ACCC would be concerned if copyright owners were able to inappropriately threaten use of the powers set out in this Bill to intimidate consumers and businesses to prevent them from accessing legitimate goods from other jurisdictions
Sims continued to state that a way the legislation could protect those who use VPN services to circumvent geo-restriction was to ensure that the definition of “infringing content” does not lend itself to content that is authorised by the owners but based in jurisdictions outside of Australia.
While bypassing geo-restriction is often considered a legal grey area it would certainly be a breach of the terms of service of many content providers. However, how content provides aim to enforce such breaches when it is unlikely they can tell the difference between someone using a VPN server in the content country and a resident of the country is left to be seen.
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Piracy image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net