The Federal Government has no plans to extend the shelter of 'safe harbour' to Australia's universities, search engines, web hosts and other network providers to protect them from prosecution over the actions of their subscribers.
Today, some 40 attendees from Government departments such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Attorney General's department, the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and IP Australia, plus universities, lawyers and representatives from various trade associations met in Canberra to discuss concerns over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
Various lobby groups were in attendance. The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) and Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI) spoke in support of the ACTA effort, while the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and Internet Industry Association (IIA) expressed concern.
The IIA said signing of ACTA - or a successful appeal in the case AFACT has lodged against ISP iiNet - could expose network providers to significant risks. Under current Australian law, only 'carriage service providers' (telcos and ISPs) have a right to safe harbour protection.
The IIA specifically asked whether the generic definition of an "online service provider" - as stated under ACTA - would compel the Government to change its domestic laws to offer safe harbour to universities, search engines and web hosts.
Government officials reiterated that there was "no intention of changing Australian law" to harmonise with ACTA, the same line it uses to calm concerns that signing the treaty will encroach on the private rights of citizens.
Today's briefing was the first time the Australian Government has invited the industry to discuss the international ACTA negotiations, which have to date been held behind closed doors.
"The Government was in a listening mood," said IIA communications director, John Hilvert, after leaving the meeting. "Whilst they didn't give anything away, at least they were there to listen."
At the meeting, intermediaries from both the physical (freight forwarders) and virtual (ISPs and other network providers) worlds expressed concern over whether ACTA would require them to screen every package arriving on Australian shores to enforce the trademarks of other parties.
Government representatives reassured them that domestic law is unlikely to change. Their intention, it was said, was for ACTA to set an international standard to improve the export market for Australia's digital goods.
Australia was described as a "moderate" player in ACTA discussions by these representatives, who considered the release of a draft text of the agreement a "triumph for the moderates."
The IIA challenged the Government to be equally transparent after the next round of ACTA negotiations.
"If at the next meeting the Government fails to make the ACTA text available, we are entitled to conclude that something hidden has been added to it that wasn't there before," Hilvert said.