Rightscorp has been awarded a patent by the Australian Patent Office which should protect it from competitors looking to muscle in on its business model Down Under. The patent protects a system which helps Rightscorp identify repeat infringers, individuals it is now targeting in the United States with settlement demands and lawsuits.
After Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked the Australian Cabinet to approve the development of a new legal mechanism allowing rightsholders to obtain site-blocking injunctions, legislation was introduced to parliament last month.
What followed is a still-current six-week consultation period for additional submissions, with various groups invited to voice their opinions and concerns.
While the site-blocking elements of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 are likely to please rightsholders, concerns remain that not only will the legislation fail to achieve its aims, but may also have unintended consequences that could stifle consumer choice.
In its submission the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the body that represents the interests of consumers on communications issues including broadband and emerging Internet services, three key issues are raised – VPN use, efficacy and cost of blocking, plus consumer interests.
The VPN problem
ACCAN is concerned over some of the wording employed in the amendments. Instead of referencing “website blocking”, the legislation speaks about “online locations”. While this appears to be an effort to future-proof the Bill, it also has the potential for additional consequences should rightsholders decide to exploit the ambiguity.
“Our first concern relates to the scope of activities that may be picked up by an interpretation of an ‘online location’ which ‘facilitates an infringement’ of copyright,” ACCAN writes.
“Without clear legal precedent, there is ambiguity under the Copyright Act about what constitutes infringement in relation to the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to gain access to geo-blocked products and services. If this ambiguity is not cleared up, this amendment may have the unintended consequence of blocking these services and in turn harm competition and consumer choice.”
And confusion does exist. On his website Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull says that the Copyright Act does not make it illegal to use a VPN to access overseas content. On the other hand, the Australian Copyright Council believes that using a VPN to download content licensed overseas is “likely to be an infringement of copyright in Australia.”
While it was previously reported that the Bill had been delayed due to modifications aimed at protecting VPN-like services, ACCAN says that it would prefer clarity on the matter.
“While this ambiguity exists there is a risk that rights holders will attempt to use this injunctive power to block VPN websites and limit consumer access to paid content overseas,” the group writes.
And the threat is real. As reported last week, New Zealand based media companies report that they are on the verge of suing local ISPs who provide VPN services designed to unlock overseas content. Avoiding the same thing Down Under is a priority for ACCAN.
This is why metadata collection can come back to harm you…
Rugby player Sonny Bill Williams is a role model for many, a fact that’s not gone un-noticed by the purveyors of a dubious fitness supplement who’ve created an ad that looks an awful lot like a news story about the athlete. Williams has nothing to do with the ad or the product. He’s just been used to get people clicking. And if you do click on the link to the “story”, you’re taken to a page on which you’re offered the chance to buy the supplement.
Once you’ve done so, Australia’s law enforcement authorities will soon have evidence that you’ve visited a site involved in the distribution of probably-not-entirely-legal substances.
That’s not enough to convict you. But if law enforcement authorities are investigating the importation of such substances, the fact that you once succumbed to a clickbait headline in order to read some gossip means you’re suddenly more worthy of investigation.
Welcome to the age of metadata retention, in which clickbait can incriminate you.
Cisco will ship boxes to vacant addresses in a bid to foil the NSA, security chief John Stewart says.
The dead drop shipments help to foil a Snowden-revealed operation whereby the NSA would intercept networking kit and install backdoors before boxen reached customers.
The interception campaign was revealed last May.
Speaking at a Cisco Live press panel in Melbourne today, Stewart says the Borg will ship to fake identities for its most sensitive customers, in the hope that the NSA’s interceptions are targeted.
“We ship [boxes] to an address that’s has nothing to do with the customer, and then you have no idea who ultimately it is going to,” Stewart says.
“When customers are truly worried … it causes other issues to make [interception] more difficult in that [agencies] don’t quite know where that router is going so its very hard to target – you’d have to target all of them.
There is always going to be inherent risk.”
Stewart says some customers drive up to a distributor and pick up hardware at the door.
He says nothing could guarantee protection against the NSA, however. “If you had a machine in an airtight area … I stop the controls by which I mitigate risk when I ship it,” he says, adding that hardware technologies can make malicious tampering “incredibly hard”.
Cisco has poked around is routers for possible spy chips, but to date has not found anything because it necessarily does not know what NSA taps may look like, according to Stewart.
After the hacking campaign Borg boss John Chambers wrote a letter to US President Barack Obama saying the spying would undermine the global tech industry.
Back in December, we noted that it appeared that Australia was about to get its own SOPA, and that appears to now be happening. The Australian press is reporting that Attorney General George Brandis is ready to introduce site blocking legislation that mimics SOPA almost directly, in that it would force ISPs to block access to foreign websites, based on claims that those websites facilitated copyright infringement. This was the key part of SOPA, which was rejected, in part, because it would lead to serious concerns about the way in which the underlying internet functioned. Forcing ISPs to block entire sites breaks some fundamental principles of the internet. So, you wouldthink that perhaps the geniuses behind Australia’s plan would at least talk to internet providers first before moving forward with this plan, right? Well, you’d be wrong:
John Stanton, CEO of telco industry body the Communications Alliance, said it was “disappointing” that the industry had not been consulted on the bill prior to its impending introduction.
The bill is coming from Australian Attorney General George Brandis, who has been pushing for exactly this for quite some time, after only listening to the entertainment industry voices, and refusing to discuss the issue with consumer advocates, or those who understand the pointlessness and danger of full site blocking. Brandis also has ignored the careful, and detailed, process that the Australia Law Reform Commission went through investigating copyright reform, in which it proposed a number of ways to modernize Australia’s copyright system. Instead, Brandis is just focused on giving Hollywood what it wants, with apparently no consideration for what that means for the public or the internet.
Of course, we all know what happened when the US Congress tried to rush through SOPA. It will be interesting to see how Australians react to a similar proposal, pushed by a politician who has made it pretty clear that the technical details of the internet laws he pushes are not that important to him, just so long as he can pretend that he’s being “tough” on criminals.