news Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has attacked the Federal Government, which his party is in broad partnership with to form Government, for holding what he said were “offensive” secret meetings with the content and ISP industries on the issue of illicit Internet file-sharing.
The last known meeting was held on 23 September and convened by the Attorney-General’s Department. It 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. The issue has come to the fore over the past several years due to the high-profile court case on the matter ongoing between iiNet and the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.
The Attorney-General’s Department has subsequently revealed a representative of several public interest groups — the Australian Communications and Consumer Action Network (ACANN) and the Internet Society of Australia (ISOC) had requested to attend the meeting and been denied. It has also declined to release any information about what specifically was discussed at the meeting.
Speaking at Electronic Frontiers Australia’s ‘War on the Internet’ event on Saturday in Melbourne, Ludlam, who is the Communications Spokesperson for the Greens, 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. “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.
The Greens Senator said in the US, where the past week has seen a huge amount of protest actions held to defeat anti-piracy legislation in the form of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), it was similar organisations running the anti-piracy agenda. Ludlam called last week for the Australian Government to support efforts such as Wikipedia’s site blackout to protest the SOPA and PIPA legislation.
“… the intermediaries: We don’t need them any more. These people are trying to preserve their incumbency in an age which no longer requires them, because things have changed.” Ludlam said that he was interested in having a “real conversation” about how the creative industries should be remunerated in a file sharing world. “If the Government’s not going to ask that question, then we will,” he said.
The talks were previously being held under the auspices of then-Attorney-General Robert McClelland. McClelland lost the role in a cabinet reshuffle late last year, however, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointing Health Minister Nicola Roxon to the Attorney-General’s portfolio in his place. Roxon had been Shadow Attorney-General in Opposition.
In a statement issued today in relation to Ludlam’s comments on the SOPA and PIPA legislation, a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General’s Department said it was aware of the debate in the US, but that things were different in Australia.
“The Government is not currently considering similar legislation in Australia,” they said. “It is the Government’s preference for industry (content owners and Internet Services Providers) to work together to develop a code to address the issue of online piracy. The Department is facilitating ongoing discussions between content owners and ISPs’ representatives, including the Australian Content Industry Group and Communications Alliance, to address online copyright infringement. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in early February.”
The statement mirrors similar statements issued by the Attorney-General’s Department and the Office of Robert McClelland and the Attorney-General’s Department during his tenure.
Despite the ongoing nature of the talks, Ludlam and senior figures from the Opposition have previously declined to respond to repeated requests for comment over a period of several weeks on the Internet piracy issue and the meetings being held by the Attorney-General’s Department, with Ludlam stating at the time in Delimiter comments that the issue had come up at a time when his team was “extremely stretched”. The Greens were looking at the issue, he added, but not until it was “a properly informed one” backed by good policy resources.