Is it the End for VPNs in Australia? Aussie War Against VPNs

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The war against VPNs continues in the land down under as a new copyright legislation law is being considered by the Australian Senate under which VPNs can be blocked, according Choice (Australian consumer advocacy group).

In case you didn’t already know, VPNs in Australia are a very big deal. Thousands of internet rely heavily on VPNs in Australia in order to gain access to blocked content overseas, particularly streaming websites, like: Netflix and Hulu. However, last March, a Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill was introduced jeopardising VPNs in the video-addict country.

Should this freedom-crushing bill pass, copyright owners will have the right to file complaints to the court demanding ISPs to block any services that facilitate copyright infringement and violations. This, of course, includes VPNs in Australia even though this bill is said to be mainly created to target BitTorrent sites, such as the Pirate Bay.

VPNs in Australia have been under fire by the government with the dawn of 2015. According to Erin Turner, campaigns manager for Choice, said that over 684,000 Australians use VPN serviced to overcome geographical restriction policies and unblock banned websites in the country, especially US and UK Netflix services.

Last Friday, WikiLeaks exposed Sony’s lobbying attempts towards Netflix to prohibit subscribers overseas to access its content, particularly Australian viewers that have paid accounts on UK and UK Netflix.

Turner doubts the bill’s efficiency against BitTorrent websites that can simply trump it by shutting down their current location and operating from an entirely different place. She further notes,

“What the bill will be used for is forcing people into a Foxtel subscription, not stopping piracy.”

What is the situation of VPNs in Australia?

Australian law is quite vague concerning whether using VPNs in Australia to unblock streaming services, like: Hulu, is legal or not. However, the Australian Copyright Council stated that using VPNs in Australia to overcome geo-blocking policies could be considered as copyright infringement should it involve downloading or streaming content which violates the owner’s copyrights.

Nonetheless, according to FAQ of policies enlisted on the MOI official website regarding this matter:

Using a VPN to circumvent “international commercial arrangement to protect copyright in different countries or regions” is not illegal under the Copyright Act.

Choice also agrees with this statement, ensuring the validity and legality of using VPNs in Australia to access legitimate content without being considered as “an infringement of copyright”.

“The core concern is do Australians have a right to overcome frustrating business attempts to lock them in the local markets? We think they do,” said Turner.

” Turner said a more effective method of dealing with unlawful downloading is to introduce legitimate services, such as Netflix, that offer content in a timely and affordable matter. But according to Dan Rosen, CEO of Aria, new legal services shouldn’t be made to compete with illegal services. And although there are now 30 digital musical distribution services, such as Spotify, operating in Australia, the problem of piracy continues to plague the music industry.”

“We’ve made the content available at a resonable price [but] piracy hasn’t diminished,” he said.

“There needs to be a three-pronged approach: make it easier for people to do the right thing by investing in legal services, educate people on those services, and make it harder for people to access illegal services.”

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) submitted to the senate clarifying the advantages of using VPNs in Australia and supporting their benefits in providing the consumers with broader choices and better prices. ACCAN policy officer Xavier O’Halloran said:

“We don’t think a copyright act should be used to throw up new trade barriers around Australia, just because rights holder want to use it that way.”

Furthermore, ” Copyright expert Kimberlee Weatherall says it is difficult to predict if the bill will be used by copyright holders to argue for an injunction against a VPN service because it lacks clarity regarding services and sites whose primary purpose is not copyright infringement, although may be being used for that purpose.”

Whereas Weatherall said:

it will be “hard to argue for, because a court has to be made aware that VPNs have all sort of legitimate uses, such as safe data retention”. She said as the bill stands it will be up to the court judge to decide proportionality.

The bill is currently under review by the Senate legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee, with a report due on 13 May.

Read more about Netflix’s policies against VPNs here