The Pirate Party made a lengthy submission to the Attorney-General’s Department last Friday, responding to the Department’s “Online Copyright Infringement” discussion paper[1]. The submission highlighted a number of flaws with the discussion paper, such as reliance upon studies commissioned by copyright lobbyists[2], and also drew attention to the lack of government action on recommendations that could reduce online copyright infringement by improving prices and availability of digital content in Australia[3].

It also highlighted the lack of reliable and independent empirical evidence for the discussion paper’s proposals, and criticised attempts by copyright lobbyists to compare copyright infringement with terrorism or the distribution of child sexual abuse materials[4]. The discussion paper proposes creating obligations for Internet service providers to cooperate with copyright holders, which may mean implementing a graduated response or “three strikes” scheme where Internet users are sent letters if accused of infringing copyright. It also proposes allowing copyright holders to seek injunctions requiring ISPs to block access to websites.

Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer, principal author of the Pirate Party’s submission, said: “The Government decided to focus its attention on changing consumer behaviour and our submission explains at great length why that approach just won’t work. If online copyright infringement is truly out of control, copyright holders only have themselves to blame. The reality is that increasing access and affordability of content will reduce online copyright infringement: just look at Steam, Netflix and Spotify. The discussion paper acknowledges this but its proposals are focused in entirely the wrong area.

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Responding to the Attorney-General’s refusal to publish more than 5,500 submissions on the Government’s proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, the Pirate Party has lodged a freedom of information for the release of those documents[1]. The refusal to release these documents has been referred to as “ironic” given the amendments were designed to improve freedom of speech in Australia[2]. In May this year the Attorney-General announced the Government was reconsidering the amendments[3].

Brendan Molloy, Councillor of the Pirate Party commented: “This is an unusual and overwhelming number of submissions. In our experience legislative inquiries and reviews are unlikely to reach 100 submissions. The fact that over 5,000 were received demonstrates an obviously enormous public interest in the legislation, and opposition must have been extreme for the Government to be so tight-lipped on these submissions. There is no decent reason why these submissions should not be made available to the public.”

“This Government has shown a worrying tendency against transparency in the ten months it has been elected. There has been a pattern of refusal to operate transparently, from refusing to release departmental briefs even after freedom of information requests were made[4] to the expansive and secretive scope of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’[5]. The Government has refused to allow the Human Rights Commissioner to visit the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island for the preposterous and bureaucratic reason that the Commission’s jurisdiction does not extend past Australia’s borders[6]. In addition to all of this, the appalling track record of the current and former governments has overburdened the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. It takes several months for the OAIC to review rejected freedom of information requests, and instead of providing more resources, the Abbott Government is axing it![7]“

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Pirate Party Australia has seized upon questions presented by Senator Scott Ludlam to Attorney-General George Brandis during Senate Estimates regarding the Federal Government’s copyright policy and proposals to curb online copyright infringement[1]. The Attorney-General’s responses display Brandis’ inability to properly answer questions on the matter, and suggest that he and his department are solely interested in consulting with industry and copyright holders when forming policy.

The Attorney-General was unable to confirm whether he had consulted with consumer and public interest groups on proposals to introduce a graduated response (“three strikes”) scheme to target file-sharing. Graduated response regimes have been implemented overseas and result in fines and disconnections for those alleged to have infringed copyright online. There is limited evidence to suggest these regimes are effective.

“The vague responses and misdirection by Senator Brandis confirm that the process of developing an anti-infringement strategy is being hidden from the Australian public, and further to that offer no confirmation as to whether there has even been any consultation with consumer groups,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia.

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Pirate Party Australia has today launched a Senate petition in retaliation against Cabinet’s consideration of anti-piracy measures. It was reported on Monday that proposals were being considered by the Government to introduce a graduated response (“three strikes”) regime and mandatory website blocking, tactics which have failed elsewhere[1]. The petition is open for signature on change.org.

Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia, commented: “There has been no evidence advanced that graduated response regimes are effective. In fact, academic literature on the matter has been sceptical that they have any measurable impact on reducing file-sharing[2][3]. Instead, there is evidence that increasing access to content through legitimate services such as Netflix and Spotify has significantly reduced file-sharing[4]. It has also been shown in an important court decision in the Netherlands that there is yet to be a proven benefit to blocking websites. The Dutch experience indicates that blocking access is ineffective, and not surprisingly people will simply find ways around blockades[5].”

Mr Molloy continued: “Our petition is intended to remind the Senate of its obligations as the House of Review. It lays out detailed reasons for opposition to the proposals — including that neither will work — and calls on the Senate to reject any legislation instituting either a graduated response scheme or website blocking.”

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Pirate Party Australia is appalled by the news that the Abbott Government is allegedly considering proposals to introduce legislation to institute Internet censorship and a graduated response (“three-strikes”) regime in an ill-conceived attempt to curb the incidence of unlawful file-sharing[1].

“There is no public support for this proposed legislation,” commented Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “Why would the public support blocking of one of the few means of access to content in this broken digital economy?

“Prior to the election this wasn’t even being discussed. However, the Government is bringing the proposal back to the table following donations of more than $300,000 from Village Roadshow in the last financial year[2]. It has also come to light that a key industry lobbyist has had privileged access to staff at the Attorney-General’s Department[3]. This may be coincidence, but it looks suspicious that file-sharing is now prominent on the Government’s agenda, while there has been no observed movement on recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission regarding genuinely important areas of copyright reform.”

In January this year, the Netherlands Court of Appeal in the Hague ruled that blockades of the Pirate Bay were ineffective and easy to circumvent, and that ISPs were no longer required to block access to the popular torrent site[4]. In addition, studies in Australia and around the world have cast doubt on the efficacy of graduated response regimes, with a paper from Rebecca Giblin of Monash University’s Faculty of Law concluding that there is “little to no evidence” graduated responses deter or reduce copyright infringement[5][6]. Despite similar legislation being introduced in a number of countries to date, no evidence has emerged that these have resulted in lowering file-sharing behaviour, nor do they offer any significant protections for content providers.

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