Australia’s Attorney-General’s Department (“AG”) recently opened a public consultation on potential reforms to Australian copyright laws (Copyright Act 1968; “Copyright Act”) that would provide copyright owners and any person or entity possessing rights in copyright protected work(s) (collectively, “Rights Holders”) enhanced cross-border copyright protections. Among multiple reforms detailed in the public consultation discussion paper entitled Online Copyright Infringement (“Paper”), the AG proposed that the Copyright Act be amended to provide a Rights Holder the ability to apply for a Court order to block a foreign-based website from accessing Australia.
Titled Proposal 2 in the Paper (“Proposal”), the proposed amendments would allow a Rights Holder to obtain an Australian Court order against an Internet service provider (“ISP”) hosting an infringing website outside of Australia to block the site from access to Australia if the website’s dominate purpose is to infringe copyright. If enacted, a qualifying Rights Holder could effectively obtain limited Australian judicial protection for their work(s) outside of Australia, or conversely allow a Rights Holder to stem the international reach of a particular infringing website. The Proposal would be particularly useful for enforcement in cases where a Rights Holder wishes to enforce copyright protections in their work(s) against a non-Australian website hosted in a country whose laws or legal system is unwilling or unable to enforce the Rights Holder’s rights.
However, there are a number of issues about the Proposal that Rights Holders need to be aware of:
Legal Assistance Likely Required. A Rights Holder would likely need Australian legal assistance to obtain an order under the Proposal. As mentioned, a Rights Holder wishing to block a non-Australian based website under the Proposal would have to obtain an Australian court order to block the website from Australia. To do so, a Rights Holder would likely have to hire an Australian attorney, and particularly an attorney with intellectual property experience, to obtain such an order. By effectively requiring such legal assistance, seeking enforcement under the Proposal will have financial costs and would likely be more expensive that simply submitting a website take down petition to the ISP hosting the website. However, a Rights Holder’s enforcement options may be limited to judicial action such as that offered under the Proposal if the country where an infringing website is hosted does not possess an effective notice and takedown system.
High Burden of Proof. Rights Holders wishing to utilize the Proposal’s enforcement methods may face a high evidentiary burden to qualify for its protection. As detailed in the Report, in order for an Australian Court to grant an order against an ISP under the Proposal, a Rights Holder needs to establish that the website’s “dominate purpose” is to infringe copyright. Requiring that a Rights Holder establish that a foreign-based website’s dominant purpose is to infringe copyright likely establishes a high evidentiary burden as it requires showing that the site’s main purpose is to infringe copyright instead of merely establishing that the site infringes copyright as provided under most national notice and takedown enforcement systems. Based on this higher evidentiary burden, obtaining an injunctive order under the Proposal will likely be more difficult for a Rights Holder to obtain than a notice takedown. More generally, the Proposal’s evidentiary burden will likely exempt a large number of non-Australian websites that infringe copyright, and would otherwise be subject to enforcement action, simply because their infringing acts do not constitute their “dominate” purpose.
Indemnification and Enforcement Costs. The Proposal would also require that a Rights Holder “meet any reasonable costs associated with an ISP giving effect to an order,” and indemnify an ISP against any damages claimed by a third party against the ISP arising out of the ISP’s enforcement of an order under the Proposal. The financial costs an ISP may have for giving effect to an order under the Proposal is undefined, thereby making it unclear on how much it would cost for a Rights Holder to compensate an ISP for enacting an order under the Proposal.
Further, requiring that a Rights Holder indemnify a foreign ISP, namely provide legal protection for the ISP against any legal action it may face for complying with a Court order under the Proposal, would likely pose substantial risks and possible costs to Rights Holders. If a foreign website owner’s business is harmed when their website is blocked from Australia by an order under the Proposal, the Rights Holder in question will likely have to cover the legal costs and obligations of the ISP in any proceeding brought by the website owner against the ISP as the Proposal does not provide any limits on a Rights Holder’s ISP indemnity obligations. This makes seeking enforcement under the Proposal a riskier option that submitting a takedown notice as most countries’ notice and takedown systems do not generally mandate that a Rights Holder indemnify an ISP for any enforcement action taken by the ISP on behalf of the Right Holder arising out of a takedown notice.
It is Still a Proposal. The Proposal is just that, a proposal. It remains unclear whether the Proposal will be implemented, and if so what additional requirements, costs or obligations a Rights Holder may have in seeking enforcement under its protections.
What’s The Takeaway? If implemented, the Proposal would provide Rights Holders enhanced cross-border copyright enforcement protections by allowing them to prevent the access of foreign-hosted infringing websites into Australia. However, the Proposal has costs and risks that Rights Holders need to seriously consider, especially if cheaper and less risky enforcement options such as takedown notices are available. Further, the ambiguity of the Proposal’s costs and obligations mean that further details about the Proposal is needed in order to determine what particular costs and obligations Rights Holders will have in seeking enforcement under the Proposal.
On a side note, those who are interested in providing comments on the Proposal or other proposals in the Paper may submit comments to the AG (instructions here) before September 1, 2014.