Movie Rights Group has, according to reports, contacted a number of Australian ISPs, asking for the details of customers based on IP addresses which it has obtained. The chief executive of a small ISP Exetel, John Linton, made the issue public on his blog.
(If you are not an Exetel customer you have to pay $20 to see the blog post - the money is is being sought to protect endangered wildlife. Exactly how one pays this amount is not clear despite trawling through the Exetel site.)
The trade deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement has been negotiated in secret since March 2010. The US focus appears to be on the IP parts of the deal, a draft of which was leaked on the internet in February this year. The countries involved are the US, Peru, Malaysia, Australia, Chile, Vietnam, New Zealand, Brunei, and Singapore.
MRG represents Lightning Entertainment in the US and is seeking information on users who have allegedly downloaded the film, Kill the Irishman.
This is the first time that any group has taken the US approach of trying to frighten individual users into paying up in order to avoid legal action. It assumes additional significance in view of the fact that the appeal in the iiNet-AFACT case will be heard on December 1 and 2.
There has been an astonishing amount of emphasis placed on alleged copyright theft in a small country like Australia this year - in February the Australian Federation against Copyright Theft claimed that Australians were costing the film industry $1.37 billion by unauthorisedly downloading films from the internet.
Soon after that, along came another study, this having been commissioned for the Australian Content Industry Group, which put a figure of $900 million on all the downloaded content - films, music, video games, software etc.
And then, there was a third "study", claiming that while the music industry is making a lot of money, it "is not maximising digital music revenues mainly because of the amount of free music available online".
Each and every accusation provides fresh material for pushing for draconian legislation that will help US companies to increase their take; it assumes even more significance given the parlous state of the US economy.
The draft of the IP section of the TPPA makes for scary reading.
Draconian measures are proposed to be applicable to ISPs. Laws will have to be put in place to require ISPs to cooperate with copyright owners in preventing unauthorised storage and transmission of copyrighted materials.
Legal liability for ISPs will extend beyond the provisions of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Internet users will, by law, have to be identified by an ISP if copyright owners have given "effective notification of claimed infringement".
There is also a proposal to extend the copyright period to a minimum of 95 years from creation of a work to a maximum of 120 years. Parallel trade in any copyrighted goods is ruled out altogether in the draft.
The TPPA is being pushed in the main by media and pharmaceutical companies, the latter seeking to obtain higher prices for drugs, with one of its main targets being the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
As the US moves into its election cycle, campaign donations assume even more importance. Media and drug companies are big donors and have to be kept happy. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the US president Barack Obama is expected to announce a draft framework for the TPPA at the APEC summit in Hawaii in November.
Obama will need all the money he can get to fight for re-election next year, given that his poll ratings are pathetic at the moment. The state of the economy is no help to him.
In that context, the rights or otherwise of Australian internet users are of no importance. There are bigger fish to fry and the US appears intent on giving its big corporates the pound of flesh they are after.