news Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has flatly refused to comment on a report that the new Coalition Government has signalled plans to restart long-running talks between the telecommunications and content industries to deal with the issue of Internet piracy, with the Liberal Senator declining to answer any question on the issue.
The Australian newspaper reported last week (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”.
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.
It is not yet clear precisely what Brandis or the Attorney-General’s Department is seeking from the talks. Delimiter has filed a Freedom of Information request with the department seeking the text of any letters sent by Brandis or the Department to telcos on the issue since Brandis took office.
However, one thing is certain: Brandis is not interested in discussing the issue. Last week Delimiter sent the Office of the Attorney-General a range of questions on the issue. The questions were:
- Given that the Coalition declined to detail a policy on online copyright infringement before the election, does the new Government believe it has a mandate to pursue reform in this area?
- During the previous round of talks, consumer groups such as ACCAN and the Internet Society of Australia were initially denied access to the discussions. Will consumer groups be invited to the new round of talks?
- iiNet regulatory chief Steve Dalby has described his experience of talking to the content industry during the last round of talks as like “talking to a brick wall”. Ultimately the previous round of talks petered out. Why does the Government believe a new round of talks on the issue of online copyright infringement will be able to achieve a positive outcome on the issue, when the last round of talks failed to do so over the period of a year?
- Can the Government commit to holding an open public inquiry on this issue where the public can have their say, before any legislation or industry agreements are formalised on the issue?
- Can the Attorney-General clarify whether the stimulus for new talks came from the department, or from the office of the Attorney-General?
In response, Brandis issued only a brief statement stating: “The Australian Law Reform Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy. The Government will consider the recommendations of the final report when it is received in November 2013.”
News of the move by the Attorney-General’s Department to re-open the anti-piracy talks has already attracted strong criticism from some elements of the Australian digital rights community. In a statement, the Pirate Party Australia pointed out that The Australian’s article mentioned plans to create a censorship regime to block sites that enabled filed sharing, and that it condemned any plans for such a regime.
“Yet again we are faced with a government that is an enemy of the Internet,” commented Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “Previous Attorney-Generals organised secret meetings between ISPs and the copyright lobby, deliberately excluding consumers, and now history repeats. We demand that any consultation about the future of the Internet be conducted transparently and include competent and trusted representatives of the community, not just vested interests.”
“File sharing is not the problem that needs solving,” said Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia. “Graduated response regimes and censorship mechanisms have been proven time and time again to fail to have an impact on file sharing. What has been proven to lower file sharing is convenient, affordable access to content, which is still lacking in Australia. This market access issue, as well as geocodes and other anachronisms of the Copyright Act, are the problems that needs solving, not file sharing.”
The Pirate party said graduated response regimes that result in disconnection from the Internet (better known as “three strikes” schemes) are shown to have limited to no impact on file sharing. Censorship regimes like the proposal being floated by the Attorney-General are circumventable within seconds, the party claimed.
“The Internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it. Work with your fans, not against them,” Molloy concluded.