Australia to review effectiveness of ISPs' copyright-defending website blocks

And a good job too, seeing as blocks can be dodged by setting DNS to 8.8.8.8

Australia's government will conduct a “future review” into Section 115a of the nation's Copyright Act, the amendment introduced in 2015 that requires internet service providers to block websites.

Section 115a requires Australia's Federal Court to rule that a site's primary purpose is piracy. The first case to test the section was decided late in 2016 and meant that ISPs were obliged to block notorious site The Pirate Bay among others.

But it quickly emerged that blocking measures deployed by the ISPs were easy to circumvent, merely using a VPN, or changing an ISP's default DNS settings to use public services such as Google's 8.8.8.8.

The Register therefore asked Australia's department of communications if minister Mitch Fifeld believes Section 115a is achieving its desired outcome,if any plans are in train to specify more effective blocking measures and also if the minister has received representations from parties seeking more effective blocking measures.

A reply we were told can be attributed to “the Department of Communications and the Arts” said “The Government is carefully considering decisions handed down in the Federal Court to block access to pirate foreign websites such as Pirate Bay” and added that “The decision to order the blocking of a website, and how that blocking is to be implemented, is a matter for the parties involved to put to the Federal Court to determine.”

The reply finished with the following:

“A future review will consider whether the implementation of these website blocking decisions is operating effectively, and whether improvements are necessary.”

The Register can find no reference to a planned review in the Section's explanatory memorandum or the section itself.

That review is likely to excite activists groups, who have erected sites like UnblockOz to help Australian netizens circumvent ISPs' bans.

UnblockOz is operated by privacy advocacy group Crypto Australia, whose Gabor Szathmari told The Register the site was created because “DNS poisoning and IP blocking and URL filtering destroys the fundamental principle of net neutrality. The Internet should be for everyone.”

“We seek to improve the digital literacy of Australian citizens,” he added. “We believe that the training, workshops and other materials we deliver are the best way to empower citizens in Australia to take back control of their Internet.

"Whilst there is only a very limited number of websites being blocked at the moment, the list will only get longer and the scope will only get wider. By running UnblockOz, we allow citizens make their own decision whether they would like to access a website or not. Our goal is to provide citizens with the information and tools to defend their digital rights and privacy in an ever increasingly complex digital world."

The Register asked how UnblockOz would explain its actions to an artist who could demonstrate their income had been reduced by piracy. Szathmari replied that “We respect the artist's right to make money, nor are we opposed to copyright. What we do believe is that destroying the principles of the internet for the rights of a few is not the right approach to curbing internet piracy.” ®


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