Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland has called for comment on whether the government should establish a "streamlined" process for copyright owners to get hold of the personal information about alleged infringers from internet service providers (ISPs).
The six-page public consultation paper (PDF), announced by McClelland at the Copyright Law & Practice Symposium in Sydney this morning, noted that in the Telecommunications Act and the Privacy Act, copyright owners are only able to get information about alleged infringers through a court order. This presented a difficulty in the digital world, the paper stated.
"Widespread unauthorised downloading and use of file-sharing applications has made it increasingly difficult for copyright owners to successfully commercialise their property in the digital environment," the paper noted. "The difficulty of identifying persons engaging in infringing activities has also made it very difficult for copyright owners to protect and enforce their rights."
The paper proposed that a streamlined process would involve copyright owners approaching a judge or a federal magistrate with details, including the alleged infringer's IP address, the copyright material and the date that the material was either downloaded or shared. The copyright owner would pay a fee for this, and would also bear the costs incurred by the ISP.
The government has said that any such scheme must require judicial oversight, and that there should be appropriate safeguards in place to prevent misuse of customer data.
A copyright-holder-pays scheme is not too dissimilar to New Zealand's three-strikes legislation. Copyright holder groups, such as the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), have been reluctant to move to such a model.
The paper also proposed an amendment to the Copyright Act, which would broaden the scope of the Safe Harbour Scheme, that offers what is called "carriage service providers" with legal incentives to cooperate with copyright holders seeking to deter infringement of their material.
McClelland said today that he proposed extending the definition of a carriage service provider to include online services.
"The consultation will seek comment on the current definition of 'carriage service providers' that is found within the Telecommunications Act 1997. The paper proposes that this definition is broadened to an alternative term 'service provider'," he said. "This definition would cover internet service providers and operators of online services like Google and Yahoo."
McClelland noted that the upcoming December High Court hearing of the AFACT case against iiNet over authorisation of users' copyright infringement would explore the role that ISPs can play in deterring copyright infringement, but added that his department would continue discussions with ISPs and other stakeholders on copyright in the meantime.
"The government intends to continue this discussion with key copyright and internet service provider stakeholders to further build on the progress that has been made," he said, noting a recent deal between US ISPs and movie studios to crack down on piracy.
"I am optimistic that collaborative approaches to online copyright infringement can also be implemented in Australia," he said.
"As the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said, 'Nothing endures but change'. The ongoing success of Australia's copyright industries depends upon our ability to adapt to change and strike the appropriate balance between providing incentives for creators and opportunities for the market," he added.
"The underlying objective of the government's copyright agenda is to find forward-thinking solutions to promote cultural and economic growth, even during these times of global economic uncertainty and continuing technological advancement."
Submissions on the discussion paper are open until 22 November.