news The Federal Attorney-General’s Department has stated that neither it nor Attorney-General George Brandis has recently sent Australian telcos letters inviting them to reboot long-running talks between the telecommunications and content industries over Internet piracy, contradicting a report in The Australian newspaper.
The Australian reported in late October (we recommend you click here for the full article) that “the Attorney-General’s Department had 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”, with Brandis having “made copyright piracy a priority”.
At the time, Delimiter 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 on 18 September.
Today the Department issued a decision letter in response to that Freedom of Information request (you can download the full letter online here in PDF format). In it, Andrew Walter, Assistant Secretary of the Commercial and Administrative Law Branch for the Attorney-General’s Department, wrote that his search had turned up so no such letters.
“I have identified that the Attorney-General’s Department has no documents that fall within the scope of your request,” wrote Walter. “I did this by arranging for searches of both electronic and hard copy records, as well as making enquiries of those who may have been able to help locate documents within the scope of your request … I have accordingly decided to refuse your request for access to the documents.”
Because it appears that the documents sought do not exist, Delimiter has opted not to pursue an appeal of the department’s FoI decision. It is possible that the letters were sent before Brandis was sworn in, or while in Opposition, but it is unlikely due to the fact that departments are generally prohibited from taking action immediately before an election that would commit an incoming government to a substantive initiative.
Brandis himself never responded to a list of questions sent to the Attorney-General by Delimiter, and never confirmed that he or his department were seeking talks with telcos and the content industry on the issue. Instead, the MP issued a statement noting: “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.”
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.”
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.
Do these letters exist? I guess it’s over to The Australian now. Alternatively, if anyone has a copy, there’s always Delimiter’s anonymous tips form.