news Citing the “public interest”, the Federal Attorney-General’s Department has censored from documents released under Freedom of Information laws eight pages of notes taken by one of its staff members at a secret industry meeting held in September last year to address the issue of Internet piracy, after initially stating that no minutes were taken of the meeting.
The meeting, held on 23 September, saw major Australian ISPs sit down with the representatives of the film, television and music industries with the aim of discussing a potential industry resolution to the issue of online copyright infringement. A number of the nation’s top telcos, including Telstra and Optusattended the meeting, although the the majority of the organisations who attended were from content industry organisations, including the Asia-Pacific branch of the Motion Picture Association and the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.
In October, the Attorney-General’s Department denied a Freedom of Information request for the minutes of the meeting, stating that no such document existed. However, in FoI documents released to the Australian Pirate Party late last year, the Department revealed that eight pages of hand-written notes had in fact been taken at the meeting by one of its officers. However, those eight pages were deleted from a comprehensive swathe of documents released about the meeting as part of the Freedom of Information request.
“The following eight pages, including this one, are handwritten notes taken by an office of the Attorney-General’s Department of the 23 September 2011 meeting,” the FoI document states. “These notes are exempt pursuant to s47C.”
In a statement, the Pirate Party said it failed to understand why the Attorney-General’s Department felt it necessary to initially claim no minutes were taken of the meeting. According to Section 47C of the Act cited by the Department when censoring the notes, access to information must generally be given unless it would be contrary to the public interest. “How on earth is a meeting discussing possible regulatory regimes for file-sharing on the Internet ‘not in the public interest’ to know about?” said Simon Frew, Deputy President of Pirate Party Australia.
“There has been an array of draconian laws passed in other countries. In France they have the notorious HADOPI legislation which disconnects people after three accusations of illicit sharing, and in the United States the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – which are currently in their Congress – aim to enforce a censorship regime against sites that could facilitate file-sharing. It is vital that we avoid the introduction of such onerous laws here. All we know is a meeting took place behind closed doors, excluding all consumer representatives and with blacked out ‘notes.'”
“It smells a little fishy to say the least,” he concluded.
In other FoI documents, the Department also revealed that it denied requests by consumer organisations to attend the meeting. “Consumer representatives were not invited to the upcoming meeting as it will be an initial meeting to assess the industry’s progress toward a solution,” the documents stated. “This was not an oversight.”
Since the meeting was held, Australia has had a change of Attorney-General, with former Health Minister Nicola Roxon taking the reins from incumbent Robert McClellend. Roxon has not yet indicated what her stance on online copyright infringement might be.
The September briefing also discussed solutions in other countries, but the FoI documents also revealed that the Attorney-General’s Department hoped to frame the discussion on the day through the lens of the so-called “six strikes” policy to tackling online copyright infringement agreed between the content and ISP industries in the US this year.
Under the deal, major US ISPs — including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cablevision, and Time Warner Cable agreed with the film and music industries to forward copyright infringement notices from content owners to alleged Internet pirates. After five or six of these notices, ISPs have agreed to institute certain punitive measures, including, for example, temporary reductions in Internet speeds, redirections to educational pages and pages to discuss the problem. A copy of the US memorandum of understanding, as well as briefings about how other jurisdictions handle the issue, was circulated in detail to participants before the meeting.