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The Australian Attorney-General’s department has triggered a teacup-storm of speculation, criticism, and conspiracy-theorizing by issuing and then changing a discussion paper on copyright reform.

The story began last week, when the department flagged a review of the “safe harbour” provisions that are, among other things, at issue in the High Court appeal in the “AFACT versus iiNet” trial.

In its original discussion paper, however, the Department also raised the spectre of government greasing the wheels of copyright trolls actions, in a section entitled Streamlining the process of seeking ISP subscriber details in copyright infringement matters.

In what looked like an industry-provided template, the paper echoed copyright industry complaints that complying with legal processes such as court orders is “cumbersome and expensive”.

On October 14, however, the document was re-issued with this section removed, a move which suggests that a draft rather than a final version was first posted. Even so, the original version is being interpreted as reflecting the inside thinking of the Department.

The kerfuffle has also obscured other aspects of the discussion paper – in particular, its handling of the definition of “service providers” who enjoy safe harbour protection.

As Australian law now stands, safe harbour only extends to carriers and carriage service providers as defined in Australia’s Telecommunications Act. However, the consultation notes, carriers and service providers aren’t the only people who provide network access.

This appears to create an exposure outside the telecommunications / ISP industry. Is a company at risk because its staff download unauthorised material during work hours? What of university campus networks or search engines?

Australians have until November 22 to comment on whether “safe harbour” should be defined as “A person who provides services relating to, or provides connections for, the transmission or routing of data; or operates facilities for, online services or network access, but does not include such person or class of persons as the Minister may prescribe in the Regulations.” ®

Upate: The Attorney-General's department has told The Register the inclusion of the user identification 'streamlining' was an error.

"A draft document which incorporated other issues not included in the Safe Harbour review was mistakenly posted on the Departmental website. It was removed as soon as the error came to light," a spokesperson told The Register.

"We believe that the ongoing departmental convened discussions between ISPs and content owners is currently the most appropriate forum to address these issues." ®

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