Australia hunts copyright infringers with anti-piracy code boost

Australia has recently published its “three strikes” anti-piracy code which may compel internet service providers to provide customers’ details to TV and movie studios after they have been warned over alleged copyright infringement three times.

The final version of the proposal, which has yet to be ratified by the regulator, was submitted to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) by industry body the Communications Alliance.

The voluntary code will likely need to be rushed in now as there is a 1 September deadline that would see legislation enacted in its absence. It is widely believed that such legislation could prove to be far more draconian in nature should it come to pass.

The basics of the new code remain largely unchanged from a draft proposal put forward last month, which closely mirrors a similar system already in place in the US, which would see rights holders contacting ISPs with lists of IP addresses they claim belong to alleged infringers.

Upon receipt of the IP addresses, the service providers would have to issue the registered customer with a letter warning that their account had been matched to an instance of copyright infringement.

Once three such warnings had been issued to the same customer, the rights holder would then have the right to demand the customer’s details from the ISP.

The new version of the code also adds some clarification to topics brought up in the draft version, namely that it will apply to any ISP with 1,000 or more customers – which is likely to be most of them in a country that has a population of approximately 25 million people – and that the number of data requests will be capped at 200,000 per calendar year across all service providers.

There is also a commitment to limiting the number of requests that any one ISP will face, though the final figure has yet to be confirmed.

Another change of potentially great significance relates to the challenge of infringement notices. The draft version had put forward a plan to charge $25 should a customer wish to challenge a letter but that has now been dropped.

With the challenge process now looking to be a no-cost exercise for the customer, the number of challenges are likely to be high, especially given the inherent difficulty of proving the identity of an alleged infringer in a home with more than one resident.

That said, the removal of the fee will only be applicable in cases where the Copyright Information Panel (CIP) suspects that rights holders are operating in a way that undermines or abuses the system - there is a provision for the CIP to introduce a fee for all at a later date if it chooses to following consultation with ACMA.

Perhaps the biggest sticking point the proposal faces now is the question of funding – studios currently seem keen to have their cake and eat it too, placing the costs of enforcement activities onto the ISPs who, in turn, would rather not be saddled with the expense of policing their own customers.

The new anti-piracy code is being introduced at a time when online copyright infringement is attracting plenty of headlines in Australia which is also dealing with the Dallas Buyer’s Club case in which the movie studio has just won the right to have ISPs reveal alleged infringers’ details.

Wherever Australian law goes next, there is a huge difference between customer details being handed over and successful prosecutions taking place - so make sure you understand the law in whichever jurisdiction you reside in - and remember that a letter from a movie studio is not on the same level as an appearance before a judge. That said, it may still be advisable to seek legal representation should you find yourself accused of copyright infringement.

One thing that is for certain though is that Australia, one way or another, looks set to take a much firmer stand – which when faced with an increased monitoring of internet behaviour, many users have taken up learning more about improving their privacy and hiding their IP addresses so sharing activities cannot be linked back to their ISP account.

Google trends witnessed an incredible surge in VPN interest over the past week or so, which directly relates to the anti-piracy threats.

To a certain degree, this shows that many file sharers are not put off by this new law, and are continuously looking for methods to truly stay anonymous while on the net.

Arthur Baxter works in Network Operations at ExpressVPN, a global VPN provider offering over 97 different servers in 78 countries.