news Senior figures from the Opposition and the Greens have declined to respond to repeated requests for comment over a period of several weeks on recent Federal Government moves to firm up its policy on Internet content piracy, as the future of Australia’s response to the issue continues to be in doubt.
Over the past few months, a number of events have taken place which appear to be signalling the potential for a long-term resolution to the issue of Internet piracy in Australia. For starters, iiNet’s long-running court battle with the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft has finally hit the High Court and the Federal Department of the Attorney-General has kicked off talks between the ISP industry and content holders on a joint industry approach to the issue.
Amidst these moves, a new player — Movie Rights Group — has arisen and is planning to target thousands of Australians who have allegedly downloaded its clients’ films, using a legal process which both the ISP and content industries appear to approve of, and which the Government has proposed strengthening.
Despite the recent moves, however, the Opposition and the Greens have ignored requests for comment on the issue.
On 25 October Delimiter approached the offices of Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis and Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam for a response to the issues — seeking to clarify what the policies of the two organisations are on online copyright infringement.
Ludlam’s office signalled he was the right spokesperson on the matter, but did not respond with a comment, despite repeated requests over several weeks. The office of Senator Brandis noted the approach but has not responded.
The responses are not dissimilar from the Government’s own approach to the issue.
Although the Attorney-General’s Department is holding talks between the content and ISP industries on the matter, the talks are being held behind closed doors, with the department having refrained from giving out any detailed information so far on what has been discussed. In late October, Attorney-General Robert McLelland declined and deflected a number of core questions regarding the Government’s own policy on online copyright infringement.
The only party to have commented publicly on the issue of Internet piracy in any depth is the Australian leg of the Pirate Party, which has been successful electorally in Europe but holds no parliamentary office in Australia. “We have been highly critical of the process by which the Attorney General’s Department has conducted its consultations, which have largely excluded civil society and consumers,” said the party’s then-president, Rodney Serkowski, in mid-October. “The most important stakeholders have not been able to participate.”
The Attorney-General’s Department has previously declined a Freedom of Information request for the minutes of the last known meeting it hosted between the ISP and content industries on 23 September, stating no such document existed. For this reason, a new Freedom of Information request has been filed with the Department, seeking the following documents:
- A list of all attendees at the meeting
- Personal notes of any and all attendees at the meeting from any government agency
- Any and all email correspondence related to the calling and conduct of the meeting
- Any correspondence between the office of the Secretary of the Department and the Office of the Attorney-General discussing the meeting after it was held.
It appears that Internet piracy is a taboo issue in Australian politics — a subject which nobody wants to go near for fear of it tainting them. I am surprised that we have been unable to get the office of Scott Ludlam — perhaps the most technologically savvy politician operating in Federal Parliament at the moment — to comment on the issue. However, I’m not surprised that George Brandis won’t comment. I’ve been trying to get Brandis to comment on matters in the Attorney-General’s portfolio for years. He never has so far.
However, it’s high time that Australian politicians realised this issue is simply not going to go away. It shouldn’t be discussed behind closed doors and it needs to be dealt with in both a legislative sense (most likely, through the reform of copyright legislation) and a practical sense, in incentivising the content industry to make their content available online in an acceptable form.
Only then will Australians be able to stop feel like criminals in their own homes for consuming content via Internet piracy that simply is not available via any other reasonable means.