Online Conversion Websites Next Hit for Australian Web Censorship

As predicted by most observers, censorship creep is now gripping Australia as the copyright industry continues to expand on which site to hit next.

Things are going from bad to worse in the land down under. In 2015, Australia pushed through Internet censorship laws. As we later found out, lobbyists spent millions to make Internet censorship a reality in the country.

At the time, the story pushed by corporate interests is that the censorship was only meant for the most egregious sites. If those sites weren’t blocked, then the entertainment industry would collapse, mass layoffs would happen, and lead the country into total economic ruin. While few really believed it, the lobbying dollars did convince enough of the right people to allow for censorship. Many pointed out the fact that this censorship would inevitably lead to more censorship and solve little.

Almost like clockwork, studies confirmed that not only did consumer spending fall, but piracy rates rose as well.

In response, Australia, at the behest of lobbyists, decided that since some censorship caused more problems for the industry, then the solution is even more censorship. So, they pushed for and passed the new censorship laws without evidence.

With new censorship powers in hand, the industry decided to go after just about anything they feel they can block. Their first target was fan sub websites, sites that do not host copyrighted material, but under vague derivative work theories, decided that such sites were infringing.

It seems that the industry is not done yet.

Their next target is online conversion websites. Online conversion websites convert streaming sites into recorded versions for later playback. Users tend to use these sites to record podcasts posted on sites such as YouTube. Since bandwidth is at a premium for users in a number of different countries, the use of such sites makes sense. In addition, for the purpose of criticism, such sites allow creators to take excerpts and create commentary of their own in their podcasts.

Unfortunately, the corporate interests decided to take a different view on the situation. They accuse the sites of facilitating infringement because, in theory, such tools can also allow users to obtain copyrighted music at low bit rates. All this in spite of the millions the industry tends to get from advertising revenue.

The industry is now in court seeking an injunction against some of these sites. From Complete Music Update:

The Australian music industry is seeking new web-block injunctions against a bunch of stream-ripping services. They are hoping to force internet service providers in the country to block their customers from accessing sites where people can convert the audio of a YouTube stream into an MP3 file that they can then download.

Confirming that the organisation is seeking web-blocks against 2conv.com, Flv2mp3.by, Flv2mp3.com, Flv2mp3.org, Convert2mp3.net, Flvto.biz and Flvto.com

Unfortunately, this all leads to the predictable, yet still disturbing pattern of anything being a potential victim of censorship. What is likely happening at this stage is that the new censorship laws are being tested. Different types of sites are being nominated for censorship to see what sticks. So, we’re likely to see all types of sites potentially being pushed through the Australian courts.

Really, anything could be hit next thanks to the often cited “primary effect” rule. Using the corporate industry’s argument style, talking about copyright could legally be considered primary effect. So, blogging platforms, news sites, and podcasting sites could theoretically be blocked. Any streaming platform could be blocked because someone could use such a site for infringing purposes. Web domain registrars and services that sell or rent server space could also be hit because infringement could theoretically take place on a website. VPN and encryption services wouldn’t be immune either. Any service that permits communication such as instant messaging and e-mail could get hit. Chat services. Really, by the time you are done, you won’t have an Internet left.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation in Australia to see how things will develop from here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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