Govt censors secret anti-piracy meeting notes


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.


  1. Give people a way to pay for content and they will.

    The government should legislate that any content not provided for purchase in a country in a reasonable period of time for people to access should be fair game people want to purchase or rent and watch content but can’t so they download.

    I would pay up to $150 a month to access everything I want when I want through my smart tv or ps3 or xbox yet I can’t.

    Yet these people who dont want my money want to be able to screw everyone because someone downloaded something they could not get elsewhere gee brilliant the world has moved on embrace it guys digital distrubution gives you MORE freedom MORE profit Yet you want to sue people instead of making money

    • That precisely is what astounds me about this whole thing. The government appears to be helping an entire industry that refuses to help itself.

      • So true, we have nothing like Netflix, so people will download if they can not buy the content.

      • Not only that but it is an industry that contributes less than 0.5% (yes zero point five) to Australia’s GDP. That figure includes both direct and indirect contribution and is based on AFACT own figures and reports.

  2. Typical and consistant with the current government’s attitude towards any restriction and locking down of internet access within Australia.

    We all saw Conroy’s antics with the filter, we are now seeing the AG’s department mimicing that deceitful and secretive way of implementing dodgy legislation. The government desperately wants to control all things internet but wants to do it without costing votes and creating publicity.

    Good on you Renai for exposing this, I only wish mainstream media would also give it due attention.

    • No worries! I will keep investigating this area, I know a lot of readers are interested in it.

      I have been quite concerned about the Attorney-General’s Department for some time. The OzLog proposal and now this proposal … AGD seems to have quite the penchant for secretive monitoring and control of the Internet. I may need to break out the FoI stick a few more times before this is over.

  3. The fact that the meeting was shrouded in such intense secrecy suggests that it went far beyond the limited area of copyright infringement, and that ‘copyright’ is just an excuse to get the foot in the door.

    My guess is that the missing eight pages comprises a summary of the types of websites which our government would like to block, because they contradict the official line. A lot of those sites reveal some inconvenient truths about very controversial events, which are otherwise withheld from the public by the propaganda apparatus known as the ‘mass media’.

    Given that the Gillard government is champing at the bit to reign a bit of well-deserved criticism in the newspapers, how much more paranoid must it be over that last source of uncensored information known as ‘the Internet’?!

    I hate to say it, but the days of Internet freedom appear numbered.

    • My view is this: they don’t *really* care about piracy, they just want to drag their antiquated business models and supply chains into the future. They became bloated by creating scarcity and relying on physical distribution, they’re becoming redundant very quickly, and now they’re scaring governments worldwide into protecting them from what consumers want.

  4. This level of sececy and slithering around is exactly the way these laws need to be implemented, because they know there is no chance in hell they would go over well with the electorate.

  5. Its just a facade; they were actually talking about caching vast quantities of nuclear weapons on Australian shores. *rolling eyes*

  6. It’s a concern when the public aren’t really interested in such a story, all Government material should be publically available even without the use of FOI. Officials are elected by the people, for the people! not individual corporations but perhaps the well to do politicians forgot this part.

    If only changes to our political system could be made as we are stuck in an endless loop with two parties in Australia and the most insane part of it all is they get to decide who our prime minister is.

    Political donations to both individuals and parties need to be publicised and a cap set as it’s hard to believe the attention corporations get in this country without money exchanging hands at a political level.

  7. Simple. Charge a bandwidth tax to home consumers. 0-10GB a month- No tax. 10-20 $5 and so on.
    Give the money to the entertainment industry then let us download whatever we want.

    Everyone benefits.

    • Not exactly. Why should millions of people subsidise an entire industry just because they have deep pockets. The jobs involved are predominantly overseas as well so we can’t even argue we’re supporting local industry.

    • That would be a huge win for the content industry and no one else. What about people who consume 50 – 100GB a month from legitimately free websites like iView, Youtube, daily motion etc?
      Why should they line the pockets of corporations so that other people can download movies for free?

      As others have said, make the content available at a reasonable cost and stop treating customers like criminals and the majority of people will hand over their hard earned cash without a second thought.

    • Why stop there? Why not tax everyone an extra %5 of their salary and give that to Hollywood?

      Your proposal is about as sensible as when it was proposed to add an excise to every blank CD/DVD sold, even if you were using the media to back up your own content.

      • Because it’s not really about Hollywood at all! That’s only to get the foot in the door to something far more oppressive, which is the ability to shut down any and every website which may contain something that our esteemed rulers would prefer we didn’t know. And believe me, that covers a huge range of topics on a huge number of websites, far beyond the limited boundaries of A/V copyright.

        Our entire freedom to communicate and learn the truth about almost anything is under threat – people need to WAKE UP and look at the big picture!

  8. Hmm, any chance the pirate party might look at taking them to court for access to the documents, I would certainly donate to such an initiative…even if all that was raised was enough to file papers etc it would be good because the news would grab hold of it and the gov might just give in.

  9. Hopefully the imminent demolition of the SOPA farce will give even the sheep in our current regime reason to consider why the US is currently seeing a massive backlash against the assault on the fundamentals of the internet by stupid, greedy and corrupt vested interests. If their masters in Washington are doing a double take despite the infantile bleatings of the senile twittering golem himself, it may be time that the AG and her minions grew a pair and told AFACT and co. to go suck a lemon… those wacky libertarians the Swiss have done so and the Swedes despite their weird legal system of wack a mole by amateurs and lobbyists have declared file sharing to be a legitimate religion. Clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right, whats a poor boy to do?

  10. “Officials are elected by the people, for the people! not individual corporations ”

    Jason, in theory you are right but in practice most politicians only serve corporations, the powerful and the filthy rich. Most governments in the world pretend to serve the people but in reality they mainly serve the powerful interests. Governments of any political persuasion aren’t our friends and should never be trusted.

  11. Sorry to be meta, but I want to start by saying that you can tell that Delimiter is unique among news sourcesby seeing that almost all the comments have well thought out, reasoned positions, and I can read the comments without worrying about the future of humanity.

    Now, I’d just like to point out that the government’s behaviour around this is not limited to Labor. If Liberal were on power, it would be the same. It’s about old, secretive politics that knows that shedding light on how things work will reveal corruption that the public won’t condone.

    There’s a reason that these FOI request stories usually have the Pirate Party mentioned: it’s because it’s the only political organisation that is really trying to shine a light into inconvenient places.

  12. Sorry to be meta, but I want to start by saying that you can tell that Delimiter is unique among news sourcesby seeing that almost all the comments have well thought out, reasoned positions, and I can read the comments without worrying about the future of humanity.

    you’ve obviously never gone into an NBN thread on here then. :)

  13. Renai,

    Is there a Commonwealth Ombudsman that FoI denials and redactions can be appealed to? Here in SA you can do that. A Greens MLC lodged a request for correspondence between the Planning Minister and developers regarding a controversial rezoning and was denied, but appealed to the Ombudsman and won. (He was then subsequently sued by the developers to keep the contents secret!)

    On the face of it, this collusion and secrecy, much like the links between the development lobby and SA ALP government, has the fetid stench of corruption about it. But then considering how the ALP danced to the tune of the publishing industry by banning parallel importation of books I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

    • Yes, you can apply to the federal Office of the Information Commissioner. It’s usually not worth it, but I may look into that further.

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