news The new Coalition Federal Government has reportedly signalled plans to restart long-running talks between the telecommunications and content industries to deal with the issue of Internet piracy, despite the fact that a previous round of talks between the two sides under the previous Labor administration proved pointless.
The Australian newspaper reported this morning (we recommend you click here for the full article) that “the Attorney-General’s Department has sent letters to the nation’s top telcos and content creators seeking their participation in a series of industry roundtables to resolve the online piracy issue as a matter of urgency”.
It is not yet clear precisely what new Attorney-General George Brandis or the Attorney-General’s Department is seeking from the talks. as neither has issued a statement on the issue. Delimiter has filed a Freedom of Information request this morning with the department seeking the text of any letters sent by Brandis or the Department to telcos on the issue since Brandis took office. In addition, comment is being sought from Brandis on the issue.
The last round of talks between ISPs and the content industry were also hosted by the Attorney-General’s Department, with departmental secretary Roger Wilkins believed to be taking a personal hand in an issue the bureaucrat has seen as important for the previous Labor Government. The talks were held between late 2011 and mid-2012, but ultimately broke down due to an inability of the two sides to come to any form of agreement.
In a fiery blog post published around the last known round of the anti-piracy talks in June 2012, iiNet regulatory chief Steve Dalby was highly critical of the content industry, including the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), which iiNet that year won a high-profile High Court victory against in the area.
“It’s quite clear that finding a new business model for sharing content is a key issue facing the entertainment industry, particularly in light of iiTrial. Copyright legislation needs to change to serve the changing needs of both the rights holders and the expectations of online consumers,” wrote Dalby. “Try telling that to an organisation like the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) – you might as well be talking to a brick wall.”
Dalby accused the US entertainment industry of “ignoring” consumer demand for the ability to access content in their preferred content, at a time that was convenient, for “so many years now” that multiple alternatives had been designed, built, adopted and thoroughly commoditised, becoming mainstream in the process.
“The upcoming Attorney General’s Department forum to discuss online copyright issues will involve rights holders, ISPs, government and consumer representatives,” the iiNet executive wrote. “I don’t need a crystal ball to tell you that the likely conclusion will be negligible change; as has been the situation since the 2005 Australia – US free trade agreement was signed. Little, if anything at all, is to be gained by engaging with rights holders for a commercial solution.”
The previous round of talks were also infamous due to the fact that initially, the Attorney-General’s Department denied requests by consumer organisations to attend the closed door meetings.
In documents released in December 2011 under Freedom of Information laws to the Pirate Party Australia, the Attorney-General’s Department revealed a representative of several public interest groups — the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and the Internet Society of Australia (ISOC) had requested to attend one of the meetings and been denied.
Following community outcry, the department did eventually invite the nation’s leading telecommunications consumer groups to participate in the latest round of the closed door talks. However, the Attorney-General’s Department has consistently attempted to stop the Australian public from determining precisely what was being discussed at the closed door talks, denying or severely redacting Freedom of Information requests for their content.
The content industry has been open about the fact that it is seeking legislative change to deal with the issue of Internet piracy.
AFACT managing director Neil Gane said in their judgement in the iiNet case, the High Court judges had “unanimously recognised that legislative change was required to address the widespread copyright infringements via peer to peer technology in Australia”. “Both judgements in this case recognise that copyright law is no longer equipped to deal with the rate of technological change we have seen since the law of authorisation was last tested,” said Gane. “They both point to the need for legislation to protect copyright owners against P2P infringements.
“The Judges recognise the significant rate of copyright infringement online and point to the fact that over half the usage of iiNet’s internet service by its customers (measured by volume) was represented by Bit Torrent file sharing which was known to be used for infringing activities,” Gane added. “Now that we have taken this issue to the highest court in the land, it is time for Government to act.”
News of the rejuvenated talks comes as Australia has recently dramatically extended its lead over other countries when it comes to the levels of residents pirating popular US television shows, according to new statistics released earlier this month regarding the release of US TV show Breaking Bad by TorrentFreak, with the limited availability of such content in Australia believed to be driving the trend.
In Opposition, Brandis had declined to detail the Coalition’s policy on online copyright infringement or to speak about the area in detail.