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Wikileaked cable: AFACT was MPAA’s cat’s-paw

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A second cable discussing the “world+dog vs. iiNet” court case has emerged on Wikileaks, confirming the widespread suspicion in Australia that Hollywood was behind both the action and the choice of target.

Running just slightly ahead of the last one, this cable was actually classified (“Confidential”, the lowest tier in US secrecy classifications); and of interest is its confirmation that the “prime mover” in the case was the Motion Picture Association of America.

The cable, attributed to US ambassador to Australia at the time Robert McCallum, states that “despite the lead role of AFACT … this is an MPAA / American studios production.”

However, the MPAA and its international operation (the Motion Picture Association, dropping the second “A” into the discard pile) lacked any Australian presence, so AFACT filed the case as “MPAA’s Australian subcontractor”. The cable reports that the MPAA also wanted to avoid any perception that this action was just “Hollywood ‘bullying some poor little Australian ISP’.”

A scan of headlines from the time shows how unsuccessful this exercise in perception management turned out to be: Australian news outlets have identified AFACT as acting on behalf of Hollywood since 2009.

Moreover, the cable confirms what iiNet and others have long suspected: Hollywood’s choice of target reflected iiNet’s Goldilocks status. iiNet was just right: Telstra is large, loud, litigious, and possessed of significant lobbying experience; too small a target, and the case risked inviting the “bullying” perception that the MPAA was keen to avoid.

And why Australia? The cable cites Mike Ellis, president of the MPA’s Asia Pacific operation, as saying that the case would be “closely followed” in other Commonwealth countries – in effect, the MPA and MPAA was hoping that a precedent in Australia would serve as a lever to use on other Commonwealth countries.

“We will watch this case as it unfolds”, the cable says, “for its IPR implications and also to see whether or not the ‘AFACT vs. the local ISP’ featured attraction spawns a ‘giant American bullies vs. little Aussie battlers’ sequel.” ®

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