After Australia recently amended its copyright laws to feature some subtle but important language changes, there was immediately concern that this alterations would be a target for abuse. The new provisions are now being used by music groups to shut down stream ripping sites which, though it may seem good on the surface, could be problematic, writes Mike Masnick.
Op-Ed by Mike Masnick of Techdirt
Late last year, after Australia proposed amending its copyright laws, which included some subtle language changes, the country approved the amendments and we immediately warned that this would be abused, feature-creeped, and otherwise utilized by the content industries to restrict access to the internet in favor of their own bottom lines. One of the subtle language changes mentioned above consisted of going from allowing site-blocking of sites where their "primary purpose" was infringing activity to allowing blocking of sites where their "primary effect" was infringing activity. This change was an important one, because it puts the onus for whether a site can be blocked on how users use the tool, rather than how it was intended to be used. And, of course, there is simply more subjectivity in "primary effect" than there is in "primary purpose", leading us to warn that this would be abused.
And, a mere few months later, the music industry is in court citing the new law to get approval to have ISPs block stream-ripping sites.
The Federal Court action is being coordinated by Music Rights Australia, with the support of the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) as well as Sony Music Entertainment Australia Pty Ltd, Universal Music Australia Pty Limited and Warner Music Australia Pty Limited.
Stream-ripping sites allow users to record and save the audio streamed from a service such as Spotify or YouTube. The services have not previously been the subject of legal action in Australia. (In November, Sony Music emerged victoriousfrom a fight against stream-ripping service MusicMonster.fm in a German court, with the service being declared illegal.)
Now, as we've discussed in the past, the problem here is that there are a ton of legitimate uses for stream-ripping sites. I personally use them all the time to get audio-only for videos made public by educational institutions, by people that do how-to videos, lectures, etc. The primary purpose of stream-ripping sites is not infringement; it's to rip streams, not all of which are infringing. But the primary effect? Well, that's open to interpretation and the Australian government has bent over backwards to give the content industries the benefit of every doubt. Plenty of infringement happens with stream-ripping sites, because that's how users choose to use them. But it's not their purpose.
And yet, because of this poorly amended law, these sites are now staring down the censorship barrel.