Addressing Copyright Infringement Online Through Secondary Liability and Website Blocking: A Submission to the Australian Government

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This submission responds to two proposals by the Australian government to address online copyright infringement (1) expanding secondary liability for copyright infringement (the doctrine of authorisation) to increase the ‘incentives’ for network access providers to ‘cooperate’ with copyright owners, and (2) introducing a mechanism to allow copyright owners to apply to the court for an injunction to block overseas websites with the ‘dominant purpose’ of facilitating copyright infringement. The submission argues against the expansion of secondary liability, outlining the many problems that have resulted in recent years in Australia from legislative attempts to ‘clarify’ or codify the doctrine of authorisation. It points out the hybrid nature of the Australian law prohibiting ‘authorisation’ of copyright infringement, as a creature of both statute and common law, and how this impacts on legislative attempts to guide the courts. It also points out that internet service provider safe harbours, introduced as a result of Australia’s Free Trade Agreement with the US, would also undermine the government’s goals. In relation to website blocking, the submission reviews developments in Europe and elsewhere and suggests a range of safeguards and limitations that should be considered, including limiting availability of an injunction to cases of serious infringement, where the injunction will not impact on lawful access, ensuring that the order does not impact adversely on the ability of network providers to run a business, ensuring natural justice and procedural fairness. We also argue for a sunset clause to ensure proper review of its operation after an appropriate period. The submission also examines, and rejects, an argument that Australia’s bilateral trade agreements with the US, Singapore, Korea and/or Japan require Australia to expand the liability of internet access providers for copyright infringement by their customers.
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