The federal Attorney-General's Department will meet industry stakeholders next month to discuss potential new copyright laws to combat online piracy.
The Australian has obtained a copy of a letter written by Attorney-General's Department secretary Roger Wilkins inviting internet industry executives to meet copyright protection advocacy groups next month to negotiate laws to combat online piracy.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland confirmed that the department had arranged the high-level meeting next month.
Michael Salmon, spokesman for copyright advocate the Australian Content Industry Group, which has been invited to attend the meeting, said content holders would be pushing hard for a graduated response scheme to penalise consumers who repeatedly engaged in online piracy.
Mr Salmon said the meeting would provide a forum to mould the broad agreements already struck among stakeholders into a solid proposal to be delivered to the federal government.
New Zealand's "three strikes" laws for dealing with internet users who repeatedly breach copyright online came into effect this month, and similar legislation has been proposed in most codes for dealing with the issue in Australia.
A graduated response was hinted at in the appeal ruling handed down by the full bench of the Federal Court in February.
The proposal is likely to strengthen laws limiting carriers' liability for online copyright infringement, in line with a speech by Mr McClelland in February.
"Stakeholders have expressed differing positions on the need for, and scope of, any government intervention on this issue," a spokesman for Mr McClelland said. "This meeting has been convened by the secretary of the Attorney-General's Department to gauge the views of key stakeholders with a view to advising government on the current state of play and stakeholder views."
In the letter, Mr Wilkins writes: "The Attorney-General has consistently stated that his preference is for an industry-based solution, but that he is open to other options, including legislation, should industry co-operation fail."
In addition to ACIG, advocacy groups invited to represent copyright holders at the talks include the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft and the newly formed Digital Entertainment Alliance Australia.
They will face off at the meeting with representatives from Telstra, Optus, the Internet Industry Association and the Communications Alliance.
The talks come as iiNet and AFACT prepare to face off in the High Court to settle a landmark online copyright battle.
AFACT is representing a group of 34 major copyright holders that have so far been unsuccessful in suing the Perth-based ISP for online copyright infringement. The group has been trying to persuade the court that iiNet authorised copyright infringement on its network by refusing to pass on to customers breach notices generated by AFACT investigators.
AFACT lost its full court appeal against Federal Court judge Denis Cowdroy's ruling in February last year, which came down strongly in favour of iiNet.
However, the full bench overturned several important arguments iiNet's lawyers had put forward, including that the Telecommunications Act prevented the company from using its customer information to pass on the breach notices.
Mr McClelland said in February that while the litigation was important it was "unlikely to give rise to an industry-wide solution to the problem of unauthorised file-sharing"
A Telstra spokesman yesterday confirmed that the carrier would be attending the meeting.
"We have accepted the invitation to attend the meeting convened by Mr Wilkins of the AGD, and welcome the opportunity to meet with all relevant stakeholders to discuss how we can work together to address this important issue," the Telstra spokeswoman said.
"We would like to achieve a constructive outcome that appropriately balances the interests of all stakeholders, including ISPs, rights holders and consumers."
Industry sources said Optus planned to accept the invitation but the carrier declined to comment late yesterday.
AFACT also declined to comment on the meeting. However, its presence at the talks could be a source of tension. AFACT last month sent letters to internet providers, including Telstra, inviting them to re-enter negotiations on online transactions or face unspecified action.
The letter gives internet providers seven days to respond.
Source: The Australian