Given we now live in a time when the President of the United States of America thinks it is acceptable to make political statements, and threaten nuclear war, using Twitter, I wanted to close off the final section of this book with some very quick responses to some of the most frequently asked questions dealing with the laws of the internet. By ‘frequently asked’ I mean my dad asked me these questions, and only because he couldn’t get a hold of my young, internet-savvy cousin. Or anybody else.
I have tried to keep the answers as short and sharp as possible, given you have kindly put up with my long ramblings in the various other sections of this book. Why didn’t I take this approach in all the other sections? Um… too late now, you’ve made it this far into the book and there is no going back. So let’s get to it.
My internet connection is slow / broken / shit. Do I have any legal options to force my internet service provider to fix it or to give me a refund?
You do not have a legal right to a stable, permanent, fast internet connection if it drops out randomly but otherwise kind of sort of works. However, you do have a right to make a claim against your internet service provider if they are breaching their contract of service with you.
If, for example, your contract with your ISP says that you are on a National Broadband Network connection, but you only get dial-up modem speeds, you would be (1) not alone; and (2) entitled to cancel the contract and ask for a refund of any fees you have paid.
For ongoing problems that your ISP won’t fix (or refuses to acknowledge or respond to), or where you are experiencing issues with connecting to the internet or with your telephone system that potentially affect your health or safety, your best bet is to lodge a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. Go to http://www.tio.com.au (um, on reflection you might need to use someone else’s computer for this, if your internet is completely stuffed) and fill in a form to lodge a complaint. That should help kick-start a solution.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is a body appointed by the government to hear complaints against telecommunications providers from customers (whether individuals or small businesses). The aim of the TIO is to bring an unhappy customer and their ISP (or telephone provider) together to resolve the problem. After hearing both sides of the dispute, the TIO can make a decision that legally binds the service provider, up to a dollar limit of $50,000, and can make recommendations (that are not binding) for matters involving amounts of up to $100,000.
Or, if you want a faster solution, just bitch about your ISP on their Facebook page until your ISP does something to help you.
Can I force Google to remove search results that come up when I search for my name?
What you are referring to is something called the ‘right to delist.’
The only problem is that a legal right to delist is not available in Australia; at least, not yet. You can ask Google to remove search results that come up when someone Googles your name, but this is more in the nature of a favour that you ask of Google, and not a legal right. Still, it never hurts to ask, particularly if the search results are embarrassing or potentially damaging to your reputation or career.
I’ve tried this in the past, though, and it was very unsuccessful. My past will continue to haunt me online for a long time to come, it seems.
Am I breaking the law by accessing the US version of Netflix or Hulu through a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
Our very own current (at the time of writing) prime minister, the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull, addresses this issue on his website. Over to you, Prime Minister:
‘The Copyright Act does not make it illegal to use a VPN to access Netflix US. But it is also legal for Netflix US to use “geoblocking” to block your access.’
That’s a good enough answer for me.
What this means is that you can use software that makes it look like your computer, phone, television, or other media device is located somewhere other than Australia, like the United States, to access services like the US versions of Netflix or Hulu, without being in breach of Australian law. Do a Google search on ‘VPN software’ to learn more about this type of software. It’s pretty cool. I mean nerdy.
However, Netflix and Hulu, and the other online providers of media content, are legally entitled to use software that stops you accessing Netflix (the US version) or Hulu from outside the US. This is the ‘geoblocking’ side of things, and I can tell you first-hand that Netflix in particular has gotten very, very good at detecting when someone from outside the US is using a VPN, and shuts that shit down.
How illegal is it to download copyright material, like movies and television shows, that I have not legitimately paid for?
If you download copyright material without permission then you are in breach of Australian copyright law. This one is actually pretty clear cut and, let’s be honest, we all know deep down that if we use a torrent service to download the latest Game of Thrones episode without paying for it we are doing something naughty.
Is there any internet content that is so offensive that it is illegal to access it in Australia?
There is a lot of content on the internet that I personally find offensive. It is way too easy to quickly access hateful, racist, sexist, and just plain old stupid content from the comfort of your own living room. Hell, I have on more than one occasion seen guys (it is always guys) on the train looking at extreme hardcore pornography on their phones.
Yet despite the apparent ease with which we can access offensive material on the internet, there are still some limits on what material can be legally accessed in Australia. These restrictions all come under our national and state and territory classification laws, the same laws that give us the whole ‘G’, ‘PG’, ‘M’, ‘MA’, ‘R’, and ‘X18+’ ratings.
If you find something that offends you on the internet, you are entitled to make a complaint to the Australian Communication and Media Authority. ACMA will investigate your complaint and, if it concludes that the site would be classified X18+ or RC (Refused Classification) using our current classification laws, then it can… well, not really do that much.
If ACMA agrees that content on a website is X18+ or RC rated, it then needs to work out if that material is hosted on an internet hosting server located within Australia. If it is, ACMA can issue an order requiring the company that hosts that material to remove it from their servers. If, as is more likely the case, the material is on a server hosted outside of Australia, then ACMA can add the internet site containing the material to a list of banned internet sites that it maintains and continually updates. Internet service providers then have to offer their customers software tools that can be installed on their customers’ computer, which then blocks access to these sites. We, the users of the internet, cannot be forced to use this software though.
Child sexual abuse material or child exploitation material, or material advocating a terrorist-related act is straight up illegal to access, store, distribute, or host on any internet hosting server. As it should be! No complaints required for this type of material, no second chances, none of this ‘internet service providers can exercise discretion to block it.’ It is illegal. So don’t search for it, and don’t look at it. Big Brother is watching.