You may recall, that the Australian government, the big entertainment industry players and some ISPs have been meeting down in Australia to come up with a plan to "fight piracy." Of course, the meetings have been so secret that the government won't
even reveal who attended them, claiming that it would not be in the public interest. Considering that copyright law itself is supposed to be about the public interest
, that seems preposterous, but despite the criticism, the government vowed to continue
hosting these secret meetings. However, in a nod to the criticism, they apparently added a "consumer advocate." Just one problem: it turns out that the head of the consumer advocacy group invited to the meeting, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network
, just so happens to also be the chairperson of the Australian Copyright Council
, a group which has advocated for stronger copyright laws for decades.
The group has an active role in influencing copyright policy in Australia, and this role sees it advocate strongly for the rights of the creative industries. For example, in a submission to the Federal Government’s Convergence Review earlier this year, the Copyright Council argued that under proposed changes to Australia’s Safe Harbour scheme, it was an important element that Australian Internet service providers should “adopt and reasonably implement policies to avoid liability for authorisation” of copyright infringement, “including termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the accounts of repeat infringers”.
That certainly raises significant questions about just how focused this group really is on consumers'
best interests, rather than the legacy entertainment industry's best interests. The report at Delimiter notes that this guy, law professor Michael Fraser, has been involved in multiple other copyright-related issues, including running a copyright collection society:
Fraser also has an extensive background in copyright protection in general in Australia. He has been a director of the Australian Copyright Council since 2001, and was also a founder and CEO of the Copyright Agency Limited for 21 years. CAL is an organisation which seeks to collect copyright fees and royalties for copyright holders in Australia, including journalists (disclosure: Delimiter publisher Renai LeMay has received fees from CAL for re-prints of articles he wrote when employed by the Australian Financial Review).
It's pretty cynical for the Australian government -- and others involved in these secret meetings -- to position themselves as being more open to "consumer advocates" when this is what they end up with. As Delimiter notes:
It’s hard to see what bigger conflict of interest there could be in these talks, than for the chair of the consumer group attending the talks to also be representing the creative industries, and I feel very strongly that Michael Fraser must recuse himself immediately from attending the talks held by the Attorney-General’s Department.
Fraser’s defence in this case would no doubt be that he is attending the talks in his role as director of UTS’ Communications Law Centre. However, it is my strong personal opinion that that it is impossible to separate Fraser’s role at UTS from his other roles chairing both the Australian Copyright Council and ACCAN. This is the same person, after all.
Of all the possible groups representing consumer interests, the government just so happens to choose this one?