SOPA lessons for Australia
SOPA lessons for Australia

One of the provisions in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that raised the most amount of anger, and was also one of the first to be quickly removed, was that the US Government would be able to force US-based internet service providers (ISPs) to block overseas websites found to contain copyright-infringing material.

Outrage ensued, the provision was removed, Wikipedia blacked out and the legislation was ultimately shelved.

In Australia, the Attorney-General's Department has reassured us that the government currently has no plans of bringing in any new SOPA-style laws, instead preferring an industry-based model for dealing with piracy.

But website blocking has been on the cards for the Australian Government for many years, in the form of the mandatory internet filter.

The filter is intended to block what Communications Minister Stephen Conroy repeatedly refers to as "the worst of the worst" — websites that the Classifications Board has refused classification to. The exact definition of what exactly should be refused classification is under review and the outcome of that review is expected in the next month or two, at which time the government intends to review the recommendations with a view to introduce legislation sometime in 2013.

While that may still seem like a fair way off, and there's always the chance that the government will scrap the filter (or will itself be scrapped through a by-election), I've been wondering whether a similar internet-based campaign would be able to defeat the legislation as it has in the US.

My first thought was a comparison of the US Occupy Wall Street protests with the much less successful Occupy Sydney protests and its variations around Australia. The US protests have lasted months and have had a real impact on the shape of politics in the US already. In Australia, they seem to have been mostly ignored and those involved — apart from a few stragglers — have all but packed up and gone home.

So too here, there were a few protests online and in public against the filter but those have come and gone, and very little has happened in the last year as Australians move onto other points of protest, such as the prosecution of Australian Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

And in the meantime, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, among others, have quietly implemented a voluntary filter that block child abuse websites from view. All done with little to no public outrage.

In three months of operation, Telstra alone blocked 84,000 requests to view websites on the Interpol filter list.

Australians, by and large, have a habit of getting angry and vocal about something for a short period of time, but only ever for a short period of time. While I'm sure outrage will surface if legislation ever makes it to parliament, I'm sure that the government will delay any implementation date until well after the passage of the legislation to ensure that people have forgotten what they were angry about.

And Australia doesn't even have the luxury of a big website like Wikipedia or Reddit to go into bat for us and black out in protest.

So will Australians be able to maintain the rage over the filter, or is the government playing the long game to get us all to forget?

Via ZDNet Australia

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