After their failed attempt at making ISP iiNet responsible for the copyright infringements of its file-sharing customers, it was never likely that the Hollywood studios and their Australian counterparts would give up on the piracy fight.
“ISPs hold the key to reducing online movie and TV theft by 72%,” the headline of a now-debunked anti-piracy lobby group report shouted in September 2011.
But the pressure on ISPs had only just begun. Since September a series of meetings have been held between the entertainment companies and Aussie ISPs, all under the watchful eye of the Federal Attorney-General’s Department. The aim: to come to an agreement on what to do about illicit file-sharing.
It won’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the way ACTA was ‘negotiated’ that these meetings have all been held behind closed doors. Incensed by this and the fact that both content creators and Internet users have been locked out, journalist Renay LeMay at tech news site Delimiter has been making Freedom of Information requests to find out what has been going on. He has been stonewalled every step of the way.
Finally last week the Attorney-General’s Department sent LeMay five documents, but disappointingly nearly of the information contained within had been redacted.
While the documents did reveal the groups and companies in attendance – AFACT, Music Industry Piracy Investigations, the Communications Alliance, Telstra, iiNet and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy – the names of individuals were redacted along with the meetings’ agendas.
The Attorney General’s senior legal officer Jane Purcell told LeMay that “..disclosure of the documents while the negotiations are still in process, would, in my view, prejudice, hamper and impede those negotiations to an unacceptable degree. That would, in my view, be contrary to the interests of good government — which would, in turn, be contrary to the public interest.”
But after LeMay accused ISP iiNet of compromising its integrity by participating in the closed-door meetings, iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby gave a general insight into the current state of play.
“The gap between rightsholders and ISPs is massive,” said Dalby. “Just because we meet doesn’t mean that we are skulking around the back corridors of the Attorney-General’s Department clasping sweaty palms with those same opponents. Meeting isn’t agreement.”
“Most, if not all of the discussions over the years have been conducted between the rightsholders and the ISPs. These have been fruitless. The rightsholders want all the benefits of remedial action, but want the ISPs to foot the bill. ISPs don’t want to pay to protect the rights of third parties.”
Noting that “the gap between the parties is considerable and unlikely to close”, Dalby countered claims that something evil might be going on in the meetings.
“I understand that it is not very exciting if a bunch of boring businessmen continue to meet and get nowhere – compared to the idea that some super secret cabal is conspiring to turn the goodies to the Dark Side, so that Australian consumers are sold into economic slavery controlled by the faceless henchmen of Hollywood,” he added.
But in any event the people still want transparency and now politicians say they want answers too. Yesterday, Greens Communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam filed an order in the Senate asking the government to disclose what went on during the most recent meeting held in February.
“Even with the best will in the world, simply inviting the intermediaries to come up with something that suits their collective commercial interests is hardly an encouraging recipe for looking after the public interest,” said Ludlam. “I acknowledge that ISPs have done their best to prevent predatory behaviour by rights holders in the past, but there’s no substitute for a diversity of views in a forum such as this.”
And that is the key to success – an open forum. It’s perhaps understandable that the rightsholders and ISPs don’t want their personal arguments heard in public. But by not allowing the people whose habits they hope to change get involved, it leads away from greater cooperation and understanding and towards suspicion and isolation. Piracy reductions definitely won’t be found at the end of that road.