Secret BitTorrent agreement on the cards


news The Department of the Attorney-General has confirmed talks it is hosting behind closed doors between Internet service providers and the entertainment industry could result in an “agreement” between the two warring sides that would govern how Australians pirating content through platforms such as BitTorrent would be dealt with in future.

In late August this year, the department confirmed it had invited ISPs and content owners to meet with officials to discuss the online copyright infringement landscape. At that time, a spokesperson for Attorney-General Robert McLelland stated the talks had been convened by the Department with a view to advising McLelland on the current state of play with respect to the matter.

However, today the department issued an updated statement changing the way it described the talks, and noting an “an agreement” between the two sides could be on the table. Despite consistent statements by McLelland’s office that the meetings were initiated by the department, it appears the stimulus for the meeting had come from McLelland himself.

“The Attorney-General asked the secretary of his department to convene a meeting with key industry stakeholders to discuss options for an industry response to illegal file sharing,” the department said today. “That meeting was held in Sydney on Friday 23 September.”

“Constructive industry discussions had already taken place, prior to the meeting on Friday, to explore an industry agreement to address the problem of online copyright infringement,” the department continued. “We understand that industry had already engaged with consumer groups in those discussions. Industry has made a lot of progress in their consultations.”

According to The Australian newspaper, a number of the nation’s top telcos, including Telstra, Optus, iiNet and so on were invited to the meeting, although the chief executives of Telstra and Optus met separately with the departmental secretary on the matter. Industry associations also attended, and content owners were represented by organisations like the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft and the Australian Content Industry Group.

However, so far none of the parties involved have been prepared to state what precisely is being discussed at the meetings, although Delimiter has filed a Freedom of Information request with the department, seeking the minutes of the meeting. The department has acknowledged it will respond to the request before 26 October, although it is yet unclear what its response might be.

The issue is particularly contentious at the moment due to the ongoing court case between iiNet and the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, which is slated to hit the High Court, in AFACT’s second appeal following unsuccessful rulings, later this year. AFACT is attempting to hold iiNet responsible for the piracy actions of its users.

In a statement this week, Pirate Party Australia President Rodney Serkowski said it was concerning that the talks were being held behind closed doors and without the involvement of the public. “When meetings are convened in secret and exclude important stakeholders and civil society, it compromises the integrity of our democratic processes,” said Serkowski. His colleague, acting secretary Simon Frew, added:

“It is deeply concerning. To allow big media a free hand in drafting copyright legislation and dictating terms of enforcement without consulting other stakeholders will result in laws that benefit only big media at the expense of artists and consumers.”

Today, the Attorney-General’s Department said that all parties at the meeting had acknowledged that “consumer interests are very important and should be protected”.

“The industry will continue to engage with consumer groups in its discussions and the Department will seek to ensure that consumer protections are integrated into any agreement,” the department stated. “Representatives of Internet Service Providers and copyright owners have agreed to continue talks and to meet with the Department again in a few months. As this is the first meeting , it is envisaged that consumer representatives will be invited to future discussions.”

There is also speculation in the industry that one potential resolution to the issue of online piracy could be the implementation of a so-called ‘strikes’ system, which would see internet users disconnected after content owners had complained a certain amount of times and provided evidence that a certain user was committing copyright infringement online. Such systems have already been implemented in countries such as New Zealand and France.

So far, the ISP industry has resisted implementing such a system in Australia, although a number of ISPs — such as Exetel, for example — have already voluntarily implemented a system whereby the receipt of a certain number of complaints will eventually lead to a request for a customer to churn to another ISP. AFACT has signalled to ISPs that it wants an “automated processing system” for copyright infringement notices to be distributed to ISP customers.

The Pirate Party’s Frew warned there were problems with such a framework. “There are huge civil liberties and human rights issues in any enforcement framework,” he said. “The termination, suspension or limitation of access upon allegation or even violation of copyright, in an ill-conceived attempt to prop up failing business models, at the expense of artists and consumers is completely unacceptable.”

Two things disturb me here. Firstly, that these talks are going on behind closed doors, without any input from the public. We’ve seen this approach from the Attorney-General’s Department before (on the issue of data retention of customer information by ISPs for law enforcement). I feel very strongly that the issue of online copyright infringement should be the matter of a public inquiry — and certainly after the iiNet/AFACT case is settled.

Secondly, I am very disturbed that iiNet is attending any talks with AFACT outside of the courtroom. Frankly, any time the pair speak at the moment, given that their case is currently before the High Court, it should only be through their respective lawyers.


  1. Why are American lobbyists and businesses dictating laws to Australians? I would vote for anyone who told the RIAA and MPAA to go fuck themselves. I also accuse our govt of sedition for being party to this RIAA/MPAA protectionist scam.

  2. Storm in a teacup – the Government is facilitating discussions between competing commercial interests to attempt to bring forth resolution to a decade long commercial dispute. Do you really want to be involved in every single meeting that the Government involves itself in, or just the ones that go to whether you’ll think twice before ripping off the next movie you want to watch?

    • I would like some public transparency around processes which could result in vast numbers of Australians being disconnected from the Internet for unproven copyright infringement allegations which aren’t precisely criminal behaviour, yes.

      • Well, presumably if there were to be a change to the law, the normal processes of parlimentary scrutiny will apply.

        If the High Court makes a decision on this matter that effectively implements 3 strikes, that is their prerogative.

        If ISPs choose to actually enforce contracts held with their clients which allow them to terminate their services where the customers uses the ISP services to break the law, so be it (customers can always go to other ISPs that don’t have such provisions in their contracts).

        If you don’t like any of those outcomes – it seems to me your problem is not with piracy, but the Westminster system, the separation of powers and the law of contract.

    • I certainly would like to have the opportunity to comment on a government activity that in other jurisdictions, has produced results such as criminalising an activity which has been traditionally seen in Australia to not be of sufficient social concern to be worth criminalising. The same sort of activity has seen policies demanded by rights holders’ groups whereby utility Internet service providers are required to disconnect customers on the – frequently baseless – accusations of a third party losing potential income.

      I’d further just like the opportunity to observe the activities of advocacy groups in Australia that have a track record of being arguably sneaky and misinforming, particularly when they are being sneaky and misinforming to the government who makes the laws I live under.

      • Which countries have criminalised, non-commercial copyright infringement?

        It’s patently ignorant to describe civil wrongs as wrongs of insufficient social concern to justify criminalisation.

        Describing ISPs at mere conduit utility providers is also a joke in a country with volumetric data pricing – ISPs know full well that if unlawful file-sharing was to disappear, ISP revenues would tumble as half the population scaled back their data plans.

        • Were it patently ignorant to describe civil wrongs as wrongs insufficiently intertwined in social concern to justify criminalisation, they would be criminalised. That’s what has happened with murder. Or theft (actual theft, not “copyright theft”). Or selling alcohol to a 16 year old. Or punching someone. Or crossing an unbroken double white line.

          The concept of volumetric data pricing being an indicator that any activity which consumes that volume being of commercial interest to ISPs, and something they encourage, is nonsense. On that logic AGL is responsible for people who grow cannabis in hydroponic setups, because the more power you use (and hydroponic cannabis growing uses significantly above an average household power consumption) the more you pay to your power company.

          Seriously, the same rehashed arguments. The same strawman arguments. The same furious insistence that something that only a flailing industry genuinely cares about should be a national policy priority and give rise to whole new industries.


  3. Why don’t they talk about offering better services instead of punishing people, if they offered a subscription based on-demand movies and tv in australia so you can watch movies as they are released in American, everyone would sign up and copy right would be protected as why would you need to copy when its available when. Cinemas will not be affected as you will still go for the full on cinema 3D feel of the movie.

  4. International licencing restrictions are the true problem and until we fix them all this is just window dressing. They crazy thing is that most consumers would happily pay a reasonable (note: reasonable) price for recent release movies and TV shows. But right now I can go to JB HIFI and get a bluray cheaper than I can download one from iTunes. Crazy.

  5. It’s worth noting that (wearing my EFA hat) we did approach AGD about this. Both EFA alone and in conjunction with several other groups we sought to draw attention to the fact the department had left any consumer or civil society groups out of the loop.

    The Canberra Times interviewed me about it and ran a piece (print only, I believe) about the issue.

    • Interesting — yeah I had heard there was a Canberra Times piece, but I’ve never seen it. I would like to see the EFA be a bit more active in this area, since the new management came in place recently I haven’t seen the EFA do much ;)

  6. This is fucking disgusting, I dont watch TV shows and barely any movies and only the occassional documentary, I favour most other forms of entertainment. however, I have to say that there is a clear reason for this and it is based on the fact that variety and quality on TV and Movie screens has gone out the window, I have never experienced so much garbage and people are sometimes asked to pay a very high price for both content either online content or subscription TV AND internet. I am middle aged and can see the rehash of TV shows and movies from my generation to the next that would make the worlds best sales persons weep. Australia has allways and its seems to be continually ripped off and neglected to be provided with accessable reasonably priced and quality content for which quality is non existent!!. and this now is to be instigated by the attorney general!? so that corporations can dictate if or when we are allowed internet access that of which resembles a third world country.

    Its time for people to wake and that the seperation of church and state should not be limited to corporations where the state’s interests should solely be in front and for the public under public scrutiny not in disguise behind closed doors and for corporations.

    yours sincerely,


  7. There was a great article by Torrentfreak last year sometime, which showed that record companies and movie studios are actually earning more money by successfully sueing people for small claims then they are getting profit from selling movies and music.

  8. Know what’d be nice in Australia (without having to go to the effort to set up VPN, etc. to access it)? Netflix.

    How can you expect loyalty out of your viewers when you spit in their face and demand they hand over all of their lunch money. Offer a fair and competitive service and you’ll win back customers and save money on legal costs. Win-win.

  9. Doesn’t matter in the long run.

    Can I just bring everyone some old memories. Back in the dark ages of the internet (2002), people didn’t know how to torrent their TV shows / Movies. But, everyone had a friend who could, or knew a friend that had a friend that could. ETC. Then a moment of enlightenment crossed the land banishing the darkness and every joe and his dog figured out how to torrent the internet.

    What will happen in a worst case is this: Some kind of 3 strikes and we cut you off the interwebs rule will get passed.
    No one will download, not for lack of knowledge, but for fear of losing their internet.
    But then an ancient tradition will resurface. Everyone will seek out their friend, or friend of a friend, that knows how to download without getting caught (VPN/Proxies/Private trackers). That friend suddenly regains their past popularity and movies will be had by all.

    Then I suggest a new wave of enlightenment will cross the land. Everyone will learn how to use the requisite VPN/Proxies or other identity hiding technology. It may take another 5 years before it happens, but it will happen. Technology has a funny way of solving problems thrown at it, mostly by making the problem irrelevant.

    The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

  10. The moment you block BitTorrent, you block the people using it as a genuine form of distribution of software and content.

    If I was a business using BitTorrent to legitimately distribute content, I’d be discussing the matter from a restraint of trade perspective.

  11. I wouldnt mind the ‘strikes’ system as long as it applies to corporations/government as much as it does to individuals.

    So, for example if a company like Telstra gets caught violating copyright, as they did with the T-Box, T-Hub, then Telstra Corp gets banned from using teh internet !!!

    Imagine how long the law would last then…

  12. AFACT and their Hollywood/Tokyo/who the hell knows where else masters may be in bed with our rotund protector of freedom (which the nations head law enforcement figure should be) but the first headline showing a ‘working family’ in a marginal seat cut off from the web for downloading Gaga will send this craven pack of grey cutouts sprinting for the bunker. Then only the Collingwood clown headkicking hitman from down south will be left to fight on with guff like “This family is the worst of the worst and obviously has the Russian mafia under their beds”…

  13. Imagine the simplicity, as a content owner, of distributing content into this big boring nanny state if we disbanded our public -service- censorship regime and simply adopted the media standards of major countries / trading blocks.

  14. Seriously does anyone BT movies and TV shows anymore ? Forget about proxies ect as there are plenty of file servers around ie hotfile, filesonic ect.. lol BT is sooo old.

  15. You do realise that if any content owner wants to “share” their IP for free, they can. Taking IP from owners who don’t want to give it away is not polite and not legal.

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author”.

    • Since you’re quoting from Article 27, why not quote all of it? Here’s the part you left out: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

      Intellectual “property” is supposed to be a LIMITED PRIVILEGE, because (a) every work is built upon a foundation of society’s other works, and (b) that privilege curtails the rights of others. If you are granted a copyright or patent, nobody else can have it even if they came up with the idea independently – which doesn’t sit well with Articles 17, 19 and 23…

      IP laws should balance the rights of ALL individuals in society. Yet our legislation has become so tilted in favour of greedy antisocial interests that upon its present course we, probably our children, and possibly our grandchildren will die of old age before the copyright on today’s works expire.

      • It wasn’t quoted because it wasn’t relevant, unless you can tell me that you are prevented from creating and distributing your art or enjoying the works of others. That does not say you don’t have to reward those who create the art you enjoy if that is what they want… in fact, the other part of that Article suggests you should.

        Stop twisting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights towards you own ends. “IP laws should balance the rights of ALL individuals in society” – yes, now tell me how allowing the theft of IP with no recourse benefits the creator and/or owner of that IP? Where is the balance?

        You will generally find that mostly only those who do not create intellectual property demand it should not be protected – I wonder why?

        • I’m not saying that authors and inventors should not be protected. Far from it. My mother, my sister, and my wife? All authors. Me? As an IT consultant I’ve written – and been paid for – the occasional computer program. I understand the benefits. What I find disgusting is the drawbacks. The cartels make far, far more money than those off whose work they profit. The vast majority of authors and inventors never win the lottery of “making it big”, very similar to the way it is in America’s music and movie industries: bread and circuses.

          You’re the one declaring that IP is being taken. I remind you that copyright and patents are both negative grants. They do not grant you a right – they deny others theirs. Do you intend that we should live in a ludicrous world where if I sing happy birthday in public, you should be fined or arrested for daring to do the same without my permission? Where if I broadcast a radio signal, you should be fined or arrested for daring to record the wave as it passes through the space you occupy? Oh, wait…

          I suggest you examine the historical origins of copyright and patents, the modern use of suits, chests and thickets, and everything inbetween. Intellectual property laws impose an artificial scarcity model upon society’s cultural wealth. Our IP laws are parasitic rather than symbiotic, drawing resources from the host without an equitable return.

  16. Regarding stuff like subscription services for content from the US etc as they are released. What about regular tv though? 7 9 10 wont be too happy if there exclusive shows are all of a sudden not so exclusive. They can’t make local content for the life of them its reality or just plain stupid.
    FTA already complained about how they are screwed with sport even though they have no interest showing it live in the first place.
    I for the life of me can’t see why can’t cable tv show it at the same time as FTA. You get stuff like 11pm AFL games on Fridays and 2hour delayed NRL games on Sundays. They complained about not being able to do that any-more.

    I do think its about time that what the world gets we get though. I spent hours looking for a cd only to find out it never came out in Australia at all. Music sites like iTunes bigpond music didn’t have a trace of it. As well as tv shows I like they are all on iTunes US. I just record them on my pvr.
    I don’t mind waiting for things so I cant see why others can’t. As long as its 9months of being originally shown and its actually shown or available here they are the only things I want. I doubt the state of our internet that it could even handle subscription services. Specially in areas that have problems with congested rims and people being stuck on wireless.

  17. This did not come from the public so, who has been whispering in McLelland’s ear.

  18. Wow. So not only is iiNet doing the MAFIAA’s dirty work down under, it’s happy to disrespect proper legal and democratic processes to help push a deal that can only screw Aussie internet users over even more?? Shameless.

  19. How i see it.
    Bittorrent will become something of the past, and a new sharing technology will emerge (or a current technology will rise)

    Kazza / Limewire / Emule => Bittorrent => Newsgroups & / or DC++ Hub’s,

    Newsgroup i believe will become the major technology (yes its very popular now, but generally not with the less savy people)

    As the content is hosted overseas, and connections can be created via SSL (as much as the goverment would love a Man in the Middle attack to decrypt our SSL traffic, it wont happen)

  20. I cannot help but feel that my Government is working to screw me over when they begin to do secret deals that will affect their Constituents behind their backs. It reminds me of life in totalitarian states where the State actively works against the best interests of it’s citizens for reasons of their own benefit or mutual benefit with powerful organisations.
    As such, I see the Australian Parliament is being incredibly seditious against the Australian peoples in not making the negotiations public. As they say, what have you got to hide if you’re hiding negotiations such as this? Obviously it is because the Australian people will not agree with the outcomes of these talks. So, Politicians will ram it through and present us with a “Fait Accompli” and force us to comply to the dictations of Hollywood (USA).
    This is just another feather in the cap that proves the politicians in this Country no longer represent the people, but Multinational Corporations.
    Anyone feel disenfranchised these days?

  21. Well this is pretty “constructively stupid” as per the moment. With things like ACTA being ratified in Japan in October, this just seems like a ploy to distract people from that monster, which imposes 3 strikes legislation on this country anyway.

    I’m not sure if parliament has to ratify ACTA, but I hell hope it does. That “treaty” does more unreasonable things than anything ISPs would. Sad thing is our foreign policy department goes along with this bulls*it to make the US special interest happy. Traitorous mongrels.

    NB. for those who don’t know ACTA is supposedly an anti-counterfeiting trade agreement. As it stands, it is more like a forced copyright law that imposes some questionable practices for copyright cases (things like removal of presumption of innocence by IP address lookups with judicial scrutiny, three strikes laws etc)

Comments are closed.