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Copyright Act and Digital Piracy

The Copyright Act governs the ownership of intellectual property in certain works and materials. These include artistic, dramatic, literary (which includes computer programs or electronic databases), and musical works which may be found in broadcasts, sound recordings, films (including videos) or published designs.

For a person to own copyright in something they do not have to formally request or register protection. Ownership of copyright is something that is automatically granted when an original work is made. This is unlike protections that are obtained through the holding of patents or trademarks.

A copyright is held in an actual work as opposed to the medium in which it is published.

Changes since the Copyright Act was passed

The law of copyright was enshrined in law by the Copyright Act 1968.  At the time this act was passed the way in which works were created and distributed was very different to the way they are today. The internet was not a part of daily life. Most artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works were stored in different forms to what they are today e.g. vinyl albums and hard copy books as opposed to digital files containing music or literary works. This has meant that over time amendments have been made to Copyright Act 1968 to reduce digital piracy of breaches of copyright through digital or electronic formats.

Digital Piracy in the past two decades

Perhaps the earliest and most famous example of breach of copyright through digital means was the legal case involving Napster.  Napster was a website that allowed peer sharing of MP3 files of music, thus facilitating digital piracy.  In July 2000 Napster was ordered to shut down its website. The website was officially shut down in July 2001.

More recent examples of digital piracy include the illegal downloading of videos or films. In 2014 season four of Game of Thrones set a record for digital piracy.  More than one million copies of the show were downloaded illegally worldwide. More than 10% of that digital piracy occurred in Australia.

Amendments to the Copyright Act 1968 to limit Digital Piracy

The Copyright Act 1968 has been amended over time to account for changes in technology that altered the way in which copyrighted material was distributed illegally and to reduce digital piracy. In 2015 section 115A was introduced to the Copyright Act.  This section allows for a copyright owner to seek an injunction to stop an internet service provider from hosting a site that is allowing digital piracy of their material.  A copyright owner can use this injunction to also block proxy and mirror sites without having to apply again for a further injunction.

The Australian Government amended the Copyright Act 1968 and introduced s 115A in 2015 to tackle the relentless online piracy problem. The amendments allow a copyright owner to make an application to the Federal Court for an injunction to require a Carriage Service Provider (CSP) to disable access to an overseas online location that infringes the copyright. These sanctions seem to have had a significant effect. In 2018 further amendments were introduced that allowed search engines to be subject to similar injunctions. Under these amendments, search engines cannot allow a website to be found in their search results where it had been one a court had found to have been facilitating digital piracy.

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v Telstra Corporation Ltd [2016] FCA 1503

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v Telstra Corporation Ltd was the first case where an injunction was obtained under the 2015 amendments to the Copyright Act. In that case, Roadshow Films sought orders for the respondents (which included Telstra Corporation) to disable access to locations where copyrighted material could be accessed.

The orders the court granted were that:

  • Within fifteen business days the respondents were to take steps to disable the locations;
  • The locations would be disabled by the respondents for a period of three years; and
  • The applicants were to pay the compliance costs associated with disabling the locations.

Have the amendments to the Copyright Act been effective?

The amendments that were made to the Copyright Act in order to prevent digital privacy have been considered somewhat effective. The first injunction that was granted under the 2015 amendment was granted in 2016 and since that time many injunctions have been granted to close down both sites and domains facilitating digital piracy. There has correspondingly been a reduction in the amount of digital piracy. Paid digital streaming services have increased their revenue. However, despite these improvements, it appears that digital piracy is still widespread in Australia. Those engaging in digital piracy have been able to use VPNs that allow them to access sites that may have been blocked in Australia through the injunctions obtained under the Copyright Act.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Kathryn Sampias

This article was written by Kathryn Sampias

Kathryn Sampias has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Kathryn was admitted to practice in 2005 and practised law for more than eight years, working both in private practice (mainly in defence litigation for professional indemnity disputes) and in the public service for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in enforcement.

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