Australia’s New Internet Censorship Law Will Be Tested

A legal demand is testing Internet censorship policies for the first time in Australia, where an Internet service provider, or ISP, has been threatened with a lawsuit if it does not block online content.

The case centers on a website owned by an Australian construction company. Another construction company says the site infringes its copyright. It hired a legal firm earlier this month to demand that a small ISP block access to the site.

In a letter to the ISP, the law firm wrote, “We consider it to be incumbent upon you, as an internet service provider, to cease providing access to an online location outside Australia, the primary purpose of which is to facilitate the infringement of copyright.”

If the ISP does not block the site — which it appears unlikely to do — the case is likely to go to court. In that situation, the legal firm would use an Australian copyright law called the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, which came into effect in summer 2015, to request that government authorities order the ISP to censor the allegedly infringing site.

Setting Censorship Precedents in Australia

As a case that involves the websites and copyright claims of construction companies, this affair does not closely resemble censorship in countries that block sites like YouTube or Twitter for political reasons. Australia is still a long way from becoming China within the realm of Internet censorship.

Still, this is an important case to watch, since it is the first test of Australia’s new Internet censorship law. It’s also notable because it involves a foreign website, as the site that allegedly infringes a copyright is based abroad. That means that, if government authorities force the ISP to block the site, they would be setting a precedent for censoring foreign Internet content. In theory, they would only be able to repeat that action for sites that violate copyright laws, rather than any foreign sites of their choosing, but the precedent could be dangerous all the same.

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