news The Australian Greens have filed a motion in the Senate requesting that the Government release documents regarding its closed door meetings on Internet piracy which the Attorney-General’s Department has blocked from being released under Freedom of Information laws.
On 8 February this year, major Australian ISPs sat down with the representatives of the film, television and music industries and the Federal Attorney-General’s Department, with the aim of discussing a potential industry resolution to the issue of online copyright infringement. The meeting was the fourth such meeting to be held, after a series of other meetings were held late last year under similar circumstances.
However, the Attorney-General’s Department has used a series of complex legal arguments to deny the release of documents associated with the meetings under Freedom of Information laws — redacting, for example, an entire 14 pages of notes taken by a departmental staffer at the event and other four pages of notes taken by a senior staffer from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s department.
The Attorney-General’s Department stated in its response to a FoI request that it “does not hold” a list of the attendees who actually attended the February meeting. Furthermore, the department censored the names of the individuals invited to attend the meeting. It also completely redacted a document consisting of the agenda of the meeting, which had been distributed to those invited to attend. Delimiter is appealing portions of the blocked FoI request.
This morning, Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam filed an order in the Senate that the Government disclose details of the most recent meeting. “The Government refuses to reveal almost any information about the attendees, the substance or the outcomes of the meeting,” he said in a separate statement. “A Freedom of Information request from a journalist looks like it’s been met with maximum resistance.”
“Major ISPs and representatives of the film, television and music industries have held a series of meetings with the Attorney-General’s Department to discuss an industry fix to the issue of online copyright infringement. This would be fine if everyone was at the table. But for some reason, former Attorney General McClelland decided to lock out the people that actually matter – the people who produce, and the people who purchase and use, the content.
Previous documents released under FoI laws have shown that the Attorney-General’s Department actively blocked representatives of consumer groups from attending the meetings.
“Even with the best will in the world, simply inviting the intermediaries to come up with something that suits their collective commercial interests is hardly an encouraging recipe for looking after the public interest,” said Ludlam. “I acknowledge that ISPs have done their best to prevent predatory behaviour by rights holders in the past, but there’s no substitute for a diversity of views in a forum such as this.”
“New Attorney General Roxon has inherited this situation from the former AG, and I call on her to table this material in an act of good faith and open the doors of these meetings so that the public can get a sense of what’s being cooked up.”
Senator Ludlam’s order for the production of documents asks that lists of invitees and attendees, notes and minutes arising from the meeting, any documentation issued to attendees, departmental correspondence regarding the meeting and any documents relating to future meetings be tabled in the Senate, on Thursday 22 March.
The sole organisation to publicly reveal any information about the talks is iiNet, which has attended the talks. Yesterday, the ISP’s regulatory chief Steve Dalby posted comments on Delimiter stating that there was a “massive” gap in the talks between what the ISP and content industries wanted. “Most, if not all of the discussions over the years have been conducted between the rights holders and the ISPs,” he said. “These have been fruitless. The rights holders want all the benefits of remedial action, but want the ISPs to foot the bill. ISPs don’t want to pay to protect the rights of third parties. The gap between the parties is considerable and unlikely to close.”
“Government probably wishes the whole thing would go away, but given that it hasn’t, they have reluctantly joined in the conversation, to see if a commercial solution could be encouraged.”
It’s not the first time Ludlam has criticised the Government over the issue. In late January the Senator said the various parties had been “locked in a room by a former Attorney-General and told to sort something out” — asked to resolve the question of how content creators could make money in a world where file sharing through platforms such as BitTorrent was popular.
“What I find the most offensive about that, is that they locked the people out of the room that actually matter,” Ludlam said at the time. “All of the writers, the creative artists, the performance people, they’re not in there. The rights holders are in there. The end users, the consumers … us, are locked out of the room as well.” Ludlam said it was the “intermediaries” who were discussing the issue under the auspices of the Attorney-General’s Department, who had been told to come up with something that was “not too offensive” for their corporate interests. “They’ve locked out the producers and consumers. The model which will be introduced in Australia, when we get to hear about it, will probably be stuffed and offensive,” he added.
Delimiter is seeking to contact the office of the Attorney-General for a response to Greens’ Senate move.
Update: Delimiter has received news from Scott Ludlam’s office that the vote on the motion for the production of documents has been held over until tomorrow (Thursday).