What SOPA could mean for Australia

Could US anti-piracy legislation affect Australian businesses?

Although the US Senate vote on Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has been postponed in the wake of the Internet 'strike' by Wikipedia, reddit, Boingboing and others and the erosion of political support for the legislation, key backers of the bill have stated they are intent on passing the law. According to internet technology expert, Dr Srikumar Venugopal, if the legislation becomes law in its current form Australian businesses may be affected.

SOPA is intended to target websites that facilitate copyright infringement, including websites based outside the US. Venugopal, who lectures at the University of NSW's School of Computer Science and Engineering, said that “Australian websites or service providers that allow user-generated content and use payment processors such as Paypal, Visa or Mastercard, or depend on traffic directed by search engines, can come under risk under this legislation."

SOPA could require US ISPs to block access to certain domains and force US-based search engines such Google to remove links to sites considered to facilitate copyright infringement.

Kim Heitman from Electronic Frontiers Australia said the current SOPA legislation is “copyright extremism”. "A content owner can go through the court process and get these websites shutdown and seized; what SOPA does is it makes an administrative procedure controlled by the US government bureaucracy and the Department of Justice,” he said.

“With due respect to our American friends, I don’t think any Australian would be comfortable with the US government officials making a decision about whether or not an Australian website breaches US copyright law.”

Heitman said that because of Australia’s free trade agreement with the US, it may be pressured to adopt similar copyright laws if SOPA is passed.

“One of the big risks for Australia [is that] because we signed the free trade agreement with the United States, we promised that we would harmonise our intellectual property laws with that of the United States," Heitman said. "The more the United States ramps up this war against internet users, the more the Australian government will be under pressure to bring in similar laws."

Heitman said he would “hate to see” Australia “on a slippery slope whereby all of the governments of the world are compelled by the United States to defend a 20th century business model.”

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