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Brandis snubbed consumer groups, ISPs in piracy debate

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis did not officially meet with internet service providers or consumer rights groups a single time in the 10 months spent planning a crackdown on online copyright infringement, according to documents obtained by ZDNet.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Australia's chief law officer only officially met with content owners about the government's copyright plans in the 10 months spent developing the policy in 2014, and left internet service providers and consumer groups out in the cold.

Meeting records obtained by ZDNet under Freedom of Information reveal that Attorney-General George Brandis met a number of times with rights holders groups between February, when he first announced plans to crack down on online copyright infringement, and December, when he tasked ISPs and rights holders with developing a "three-strikes" scheme to deter illicit downloaders of TV shows, films, and music.

In May last year, under questioning from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Brandis could not recall whether he had personally met with the consumer groups Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) or Choice.

Ludlam:Have you met with Choice or ACCAN in the process of forming your views?

Brandis: I cannot tell you whether my office has done so. I imagine they have.

Ludlam: 'Have you?' was the question.

Brandis: I cannot remember whether I have done. I may well have done, because I have been involved in this debate for several years.

Ludlam: I am talking about: In the formation of the speech that you gave to the ADA in February. You cannot recall?

Brandis: No, that is not what I said. I said: I have been involved in this debate for several years and over those several years I have met with numberless stakeholders from all points of view, so I imagine I have but it may have been a while ago. In relation to the preparation of the particular speech about which you asked me, it is really not my practice to write speeches on the back of meetings with stakeholders.

ZDNet sought access to records of Brandis' meetings with "internet service providers, copyright lobby groups, film studios, and consumer groups" over the matter of copyright infringement between February 1 and December 11, 2014.

The results reveal that there were six meetings over the 10 months, including the first Australian Digital Alliance event, where Brandis announced his copyright crackdown plans, but absolutely no meetings with consumer groups or internet service providers.

Brandis met Graham Burke, the co-CEO of Village Roadshow -- and vocal advocate for cracking down on online copyright infringement -- two times in the space of a month in August and September 2014. His company donated close to AU$330,000 to the Liberal Party in the last financial year.

Brandis also met with the CEO of the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Dan Rosen, and Francis Gurry, the director general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Brandis also had time to meet pay TV network Foxtel's head of corporate affairs, Bruce Meagher. Meagher said in an email to the office of the attorney-general that he would be bringing in a delegation of actors, screen producers, and broadcasters to "put their perspective on the online piracy issue".

Brandis piracy meetings by taylorjosh

Internet service providers have been in contact with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull during the policy development process, ZDNet understands.

A spokesperson for Choice confirmed that the organisation had sought meetings with Brandis, but had not been given time with him.

"Choice has sought meetings with the attorney-general, but as yet he has been unavailable. We hope to meet with the attorney-general soon to discuss how best to protect Australian consumers from excessive or unwarranted fines as the government considers how to reduce piracy," the spokesperson said.

There had been a public consultation process, where groups and individuals could provide submissions to the government on their view about online copyright infringement; however, it appears that no consumer groups were ever given one-on-one time with the attorney-general, despite Brandis formally meeting with copyright lobby groups on a number of occasions.

ACCAN was allowed to participate in the negotiations for the new code developed between rights holders and ISPs. A spokesperson for ACCAN told ZDNet that the agency had no direct meetings with Brandis, but had met with the department and an advisor to Brandis.

A spokesperson for Attorney-General George Brandis had been contacted, but had not responded at the time of writing.

On Friday, peak ISP association the Communications Alliance released a draft code to crack down on online copyright infringement. The proposed code would see users sent three warning notices for alleged infringement before rights holders can apply for a court order to obtain an infringer's details for litigation.

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