New Aussie Bill Gives ISPs DMCA-Like Restrictions

Jeff Berg
SYDNEY — Australian Internet service providers may be forced to deal with Digital Millennium Copyright Act-style take-down notices in the near future if a bill tabled in the Australian senate today is approved.

Designed to align Australian intellectual property laws with U.S. laws as part of the impending free trade agreement between the two countries, the new bill would still provide access to some local “safe harbor” rules for Aussie ISPs, but also open the providers up to take-down notices if copyrighted are posted by customers.

The “safe harbor” rules could be used by ISPs that do not receive any type of financial benefit directly from the infringement, according to a spokesperson for Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.

“The bill will also make it clear that ISPs cannot take advantage of the scheme if they know about a copyright infringement and do not expeditiously remove the infringing material,” the spokesperson told News.com.au, but also pointed out that ISPs would not be required to monitor their networks for possible infringements.

“This is a technical bill that does not involve a change in policy or a change in the FTA,” said the spokesperson. “But if an ISP knows, or becomes aware of, infringing material and does not remove it, then the ISP will not have recourse to the safe harbour limits on remedies available to copyright owners.”

The effect of the new bill would be that Australian ISPs would have limited liability until their received a take-down notice, at which point their would be forced to comply or be labeled infringers themselves, just like their U.S. counterparts under the DMCA.

: The new bill was met with concern by Australian ISPs, who feel that it might place undue burden on them.

“[U.S. ISPs are] receiving hundreds of thousands of computer-generated take-down notices, many of which are spurious,” an Optus spokesperson told News.com.au. “We are concerned that the current proposals do not adequately protect against this in the Australian context.”

According to Charles Britton, information technology adviser to the Australian Consumers’ Association, the new policy causes ISPs to take a host of new duties besides simply providing Internet service for their customers.

“[The bill] turns the ISP into a policeman of other people’s copyright, solely based on some sort of assertion of ownership,” said Britton, who described the take-down notices as “a recipe for disaster.”