Film lobby emails detail persistence for copyright crackdown

Emails to the Attorney-General's Department from the Australian Screen Association since the election show the group is keen on seeing the government act to stop online copyright infringement
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The biggest film rights lobby group in Australia, the Australian Screen Association, may not be appearing in the media much of late to slam online copyright infringement, but the association's Australiasian regional director, Neil Gane, is in frequent contact with the Attorney-General's department.

The Australian Film Association until relatively recently went under the name the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), and was the public face of the High Court case brought against internet service provider iiNet seeking to hold iiNet liable for its users sharing its clients movies through BitTorrent.

AFACT lost the High Court case in 2012, and has since lobbied the government to enact new legislation to force ISPs to take measures to stop online copyright infringement.

The organisation had participated in roundtable discussions with the ISPs and the Attorney-General's department up until 2012 when negotiations stalled because according to the ISPs, the copyright holders were unwilling to address the issue of cost for implementing a graduated response scheme to warn customers who infringe on copyright.

In February, Attorney-General George Brandis delivered an ultimatum to ISPs to develop a voluntary system, or expect one to be legislated for them. ISPs have indicated they are willing to start talks up again, but the department told ZDNet earlier this week that it had not yet approached any parties for such discussions.

Gane, meanwhile, has been providing commentary and research to the department that backs the approach pushed by the rights holders for a system that doesn't require rights holders to pay ISPs to enforce copyright.

In nine emails (ZIP) from Gane to the Attorney-General's department secretary, Roger Wilkins, and first assistant secretary in the civil law division, Matt Minogue, sent between the election and this year, obtained by ZDNet under Freedom of Information, Gane appears to be providing education notices of his own to the department, offering insights into how copyright infringement is being dealt with in other countries.

In one email pointing out Canada's moves, he notes that the Canadian government was not buying into the notion that ISPs should be compensated for having to warn customers for downloading infringing content.

"I thought you would find it interesting that the Canadian government has not succumbed to pressures from the ISP community to incorporate into the document a fee paying structure similar to the NZ or the UK," he said.

"It is anticipated that the major ISPs and others will respond with continued advocacy to prescribe fees, and other ways to restrict the application of the regime, but this anticipated statement in the consultation document is a very strong marker of the Canadian government's intended direction. Even the fact the request is being made through an informal request to stakeholders, as opposed to the ordinary regulation consultation process, is an indication (according to my Canadian colleagues) of the government's direction to move forward expeditiously on this issue."

While it appears the Australian Screen Association remains opposed to compensating ISPs, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said on Wednesday that recovering costs would need to be resolved before ISPs would be willing to negotiate with rights holders again.

"I think while there is a willingness in the ISP community to have this debate, we don't really want to get into a discussion without fixing up front that question about costs because if we don't get an agreement on that, then the prospect of getting an overall agreement is greatly diminished," he said.

In another email, Gane highlighted an article that discussed Australia's high ranking in torrenting episodes of Game of Thrones. He labels opponents to the association's desire to crack down on copyright infringement as "Australia's vocal minority".

"Published on the US website, The Trichordist, it specifically references Australia and our appetite for illegal downloading when legal services are available, the recent iQ debate in Melbourne ('copyright is dead — long live the pirates) and a very poignant critique of the politics and demands of Australia's vocal minority (specifically the Australian Pirate Party (sic) and ADA [Australian Digital Alliance])."

He also linked to a copy of the UK's House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport report from 2013, highlighting commentary in the report that supports strong measures in the UK to stop users from downloading infringing TV shows and movies.

"The report does not buy into the argument that a rolled back copyright regime will benefit the UK economy. Nor are they impressed with the copyleft argument that copyright infringement figures are grossly exaggerated by the creative sector . As the committee stated: 'Such quibbles in our view, however, should not detract from the existential threat that online piracy clearly poses to the creative economy'," he said.

He said the site applauds the UK police for being proactive, and said the report is "fully supporting of blocking websites".

Brandis has suggested that Australia may look to block websites with copyright-infringing material.

Gane also highlights that the report recommends the implementation of the UK's version of a graduated response scheme, which is not due to begin sending out letters to alleged infringers until 2015, should be implemented faster. He also points out the report questioning "Googles' [sic] influence in UK government inner circles as well as recognising the undercurrent of antipathy towards Google due to corporate tax avoidance".

Ganes said he had sent the department five copies of research from the University of Ballarat that highlighted the shift of advertising on "rogue websites" from mainstream ads to "high-risk advertising" such as malware, sex industry ads, gambling, scams, or download sites.

As part of the original FOI request, ZDNet had also sought emails sent from the Attorney-General's department to Gane. It appears that the department did not respond to Gane via email. ZDNet also sought emails exchanged between the office of Attorney-General George Brandis and the Australian Screen Association, but there were no emails relating to copyright, according to the response to the request.

One of the association's members, Village Roadshow, is a major donor to the Liberal and Labor parties, according to a ZDNet analysis of the donations.

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