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Federal Court Orders Crackdown On Piracy, Despite Glaring Flaws

You know what they say: if you can’t beat the pirates, litigate and hope for the best.

A landmark case in the Australian Federal Court yesterday has seen Justice Nicholas order Optus, TPG, Telstra and other ISPs to block access to a number of prominent copyright infringement and internet piracy hubs.

The local ISPs have been ordered to take “reasonable steps to disable access” to five pirate websites within 15 days. Reasonable practices here includes, but is not limited to, DNS blocking, blocking IP addresses, URL blocking or any other technical method that is mutually agreed to by ISPs and rights holders.

The full list of torrenting websites to be blocked includes The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt and streaming service SolarMovie.

However, less than 24 hours later, plenty of doubts remain about the effectiveness and practicality of the motion.

The applicants, Foxtel and Village Roadshow, first filed their case against local ISPs in the Federal Court in February. While the final judgement favored these distributors, Justice Nicholas refused to grant the parties a rolling injunction allowing new websites to be added without court approval.

“The courts said that would be too broad. If there’s another Pirate Bay that’s not on this list you have to come back to court,” University of Technology Sydney copyright law specialist Associate Professor Isabella Alexander told The New Daily.

That’s not the only glaring flaw facing the implementation of the ruling.

Critics in academic, tech and social media circles have already slammed the ruling as ineffective due to the prominence of virtual private network services (VPNs).

More than 200,000 Australians used VPN’s to access Netflix prior to the its official launch in Australia.

They say that while the ruling may curb some everyday piracy, those who pirate the most are unlikely to be affected at all.

Unsurprisingly, Foxtel’s chief executive Peter Tonagh welcomed the ruling.

He asserted that “piracy does great damage to Australia’s content creating industries and we were delighted that the government and parliament recognised this by passing these new legislative provisions last year.”

“This judgment is a major step in both directly combating piracy and educating the public that accessing content through these sites is not OK, in fact it is theft,” he said.

He insisted that “we have already seen successful implementation of similar site blocking efforts overseas and are looking forward to a reduction in online piracy here.”

Tonagh is likely referring to the recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, who found that such blocking regimes enacted in the UK “led to a 22% decrease in total piracy for all users affected by the blocks (or a 16% decrease across all users overall).”

While the findings of the trio suggested that blocking large numbers of sites can still “move the dial” in terms of consumer behavior, it also found that “there may be diminishing returns as remaining pirates may be more dispersed or else have lower willingness to pay for legal content.”

However, the implementation of similar blocks overseas hints at the major problem facing the ruling: plenty of workarounds already exist.

Dedicated websites like TorrentFreak have featured detailed guides bypassing anti-piracy measures as long as the measures themselves have been around. Even more general advice sites like MakeUsOf.com feature their own five minute getaround guides.There are even Youtube tutorials further simplifying the process.

This may be the first ruling of its kind in Australia, but it’s more likely to prove a hollow victory than a final blow against local pirates.

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