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VPNs Versus Australia’s Online Infringement Bill

On June 22nd, the Australian parliament passed the Copyright Amendment Bill of 2015, also known as the Online Infringement Bill. The government has talked about blocking pirate sites for years, and they got this bill passed within three months of its introduction to parliament. But instead of stopping people from accessing restricted content, it may actually encourage greater VPN use.

The New Copyright Law

The new law that tightens copyright protections had been floating around for years before it finally made it through parliament last month. Under sustained pressure to crack down on websites that host pirated content, it only took a few months for the committee to complete its review and push the amendment bill through. The new law passed 37 to 13 in the Senate, and now Australia can start forcing their local Internet service providers (ISPs) to block sites like the Pirate Bay, which was directly named when the bill first came to parliament in March this year.

Various consumer groups including Choice, the Australian Greens political party, some independent runners, and the burdened ISPs all protested the Online Infringement bill, but to no avail. The Greens also tried to get the bill fine tuned to avoid possible future abuses of the law, but these were shot down by the Labor party and the ruling Liberal party members. This included specifying that Virtual Private Networks were to be considered as excluded from the scope of the legislation. The government had previously assured the public that the bill was not about VPNs, but they are not gaining the confidence of the people since they refused to consider putting this language into the bill itself.

The sway of the entertainment industry is just too powerful, and they pushed Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s Communications Minister, and George Brandis, the Attorney-General in 2014, to go after the Cabinet for the legislation that we now see making waves down under. These entertainment companies are tired of sharing their content with viewers in Australia, who believe that they have a right to access whatever content is posted online. Mostly Hollywood companies, they want to be able to get more money for sending entertainment media all the way to the great Australian nation. But this is prejudice plain and simple, and Aussies should not have to pay any more than anyone else to access what is supposed to be freely available online.

Governments’ solution to arguments over online content has always been censorship. Many are passing laws similar to Australia’s Copyright Law so that they can “legally” block certain websites. At least in Australia, however, they are going after sites that clearly host pirated content, which is illegal anywhere and any way it gets spread around. But those opposed are still concerned that this law can be built on in the future to include provisions that can prove menacing to online freedoms.

VPN Signups Expected to Shoot Up

Nothing can stop people from using available technology to get what they want from the Internet. The entertainment industry has always aggressively fought against anyone and anything that threatens their control over their huge money-making business. This is all well and good, but when they tried to leverage the Internet to increase their profits a hundred fold without actually having to invest very much, they were wrong to imagine that it would be a smooth ride to easy money. The Internet was not created so that rich companies could get richer. Businesses are of course welcome on the Web, but they cannot seek to control how the Internet works, only surf the Net like everyone else. Big money, no matter how they think of themselves, cannot hope to control the Internet. And this makes them mad.

Legislation or not, people are not going to sit back and allow these greedy people to try and change what the Internet is all about – free access to information. The new law in Australia may be able to prevent them from opening websites on their bare internet connections, but VPNs are there just waiting for anyone who wants to get the unadulterated Internet back. VPN providers are not happy about the turn that the Australian government has taken with regard to online content control, but they are far from fretting – they expect the numbers of signups to their unblocking services to shoot up in the coming months, and have in fact already seen some significant changes in their Australian customer base.

As to the question of whether VPNs will come under fire in the near future, we will just have to wait and see. Minister Turnbull said just five days before the bill passed in the Senate that VPN services will not be targeted. He says that any beef that they have with VPNs is their problem, and that the legitimate use of VPNs protects them from being labeled as tools for piracy. He also says that rights holders should not go after consumers who use VPNs. This stand is refreshing to hear, but we cannot underestimate the power of the entertainment industry. We will therefore be watching to see if and when any interesting developments arise.

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