21 August 2019CopyrightRory O'Neill

Netflix employs Australian site-blocking laws for the first time

The Federal Court of Australia on Monday granted a site-blocking injunction against torrent and streaming sites after an application by major film and TV producers, including Netflix.

Village Roadshow, a major Australian media company, made the application in May alongside international studios including Disney, Paramount, Universal, and Netflix.

The application marked the first time that Netflix had added its name to a site-blocking request in the jurisdiction.

On Monday, August 19, the Federal Court ordered internet service providers (ISPs) such as Vodafone and Telstra to block access to an extensive list of streaming and torrent sites suspected of distributing pirated content.

Blocking of the sites can take the form of blocking either the DNS, URL or IP address of the targets.

Australia has been a significant battleground for film and TV studios seeking to clamp down on online piracy.

Last December, the country expanded its site-blocking regime, in a move that was criticised by tech companies such as Google.

The new laws allow rights owners to seek an injunction against sites that have the primary effect of infringing copyright. This is a broader definition of piracy than previously held under Australia’s copyright law.

The amendments also sought to “reduce the evidentiary burden on copyright owners” seeking to block access to pirate content online.

According to critics, however, the updated law grants too much power to copyright owners and has a negative impact on internet freedom.

In a submission to the Australian parliament before the law was enacted, Google said the proposals “would have the effect of removing the direct oversight of the Federal Court over the site-blocking process and instead leave it to commercial entities to decide which websites Australian users may access”.

That position was backed by the Digital Industry Group (DIGI), whose members include Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo.

Last November, DIGI told an Australian Senate committee that the amendments would expand the country’s site blocking regime “far beyond what is reasonable”.

The new laws have been welcomed by copyright owners, however. The most recent Federal Court injunction is just the latest site-blocking victory for Village Roadshow, one of the largest film and TV distributors in Australia.

In June, the company won another injunction at the Federal Court requiring Australian ISP Telstra to block 76 websites.

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