The Australian Government didn't think that consumer organisations were ready to tackle the issue of online file sharing, excluding them from a closed-door meeting held earlier this year, which was set up to determine how industry should cooperate on online piracy.
(Credit: Auditor-General's Department)
Documents received by former Pirate Party president Rodney Serkowski, and first reported by Delimiter, bring to light a private meeting between industry groups held on 23 September, which News Limited was invited to and one of its publications subsequently reported on. This report said that the meeting and following discussions would be the basis for enacting piracy legislation; however, the documents stressed that the meeting was not being held to decide how legislation could tackle the problem, but, rather, to facilitate the industry in reaching an agreement on how to tackle online piracy, considering the barriers preventing them from doing so, and taking consumer interests into account.
Although transcript of the attorney-general's opening meeting address described him as saying that "consumer interests must be given genuine consideration" in industry negotiations, and "must properly address consumer-protection concerns", consumer groups appear to have been left out of the initial discussions.
The attorney-general's meeting's brief notes state that "consumer representatives were not invited to the upcoming meeting, as it will be an initial meeting to assess the industry's progress towards a solution. This was not an oversight."
Industry groups invited to the meeting were:
- Digital Entertainment Alliance of Australia (consisting of the Motion Picture Association Asia Pacific, Foxtel, Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and News Limited)
- Australian Content Industry Group (consisting of the Music Industry Piracy Investigations, Australian Recording Industry Association, Interactive Games and Entertainment Association and the Australian Publishers Association)
- Internet Industry Association (consisting of Baker McKenzie and Ericsson Group)
- The Communications Alliance
- Policy Australia
- The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
iiNet was also pencilled in on one of the copies of invitees as part of the Communications Alliance delegation.
The meeting brief also stated that it would be "unwise to commit to further meetings before seeing if this meeting is productive", indicating that consumer interests may never be heard by government if industry is unable to cooperate.
Fortunately, post-meeting correspondence indicated that discussions are constructive, and that the government would discuss the issue with consumer groups, such as the Australian Communication Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).
Consumer groups were not the only ones excluded from the meeting. The government's Office of the Arts had raised concerns that it had not been involved, following initial reports that the meeting was for negotiating legislation. However, an email on this issue, which appears to have been from the Auditor-General's Department, stated that the department did not wish to get into an unproductive fight over who should own the issue.
"We also have concerns that the attendance of other agencies at this initial meeting may shift the focus of the discussions away from the difficult issues needing resolution, to which portfolio should have responsibility for any solution."
It also claimed that there simply wasn't enough room for everyone.
"We have deliberately tried to keep the number of attendees as low and manageable as possible."