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Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Consumer Voices in IP

On Monday Housemate Abi and I attended the "Increasing Consumers Voice in Intellectual Property Policy" Consumers International World Congress Side Event at the Vibe Hotel in North Sydney (see Abi's previous post with the details here.) Speakers were there from all parts of the globe, including the United Kingdom, Thailand, Chile, Indonesia and the Netherlands. You can read more about the day here at the CHOICE Voice blog on the World Congress and there are links to many of the Powerpoint presentations delivered on the day.

The presentations were fascinating - when I think about consumer issues in intellectual property law, my mind instantly jumps to whether we can legally use our digital technologies in the ways that we want to - but the many issues covered at this event served as a reminder that intellectual property laws affect consumers in very different ways around the world.

Two particular presentations stand out in my mind as illustrative of this. First, Dr. Jiraporn Limpananont from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), delivered an excellent presentation on access to medicines and campaigning against drug patents in Thailand. The public were incredibly involved in these campaigns and Dr. Limpananont's presentation features photographs of the many community demonstrations aimed at reforming this system. (See the presentation here).

Second, Indrani Thuraisingham from the Kuala Lumpur branch of Consumers International discussed the issues of DRM in academic journals. CIKL purchased a number of academic journal articles and ebooks online and studied the access, use and download restrictions that came with each, with very interesting - and startling - results. With the average price of an article being $US25, this equated to:
(From Ms. Thuraisingham's slide show, available here)

Take a look at the presentations available on the CHOICE Voice site - many of the presentations contain similarly startling statistics, with the overall theme being that there needs to be a definite increase in consumer voices in intellectual property. Those with a voice that can be heard need to speak up!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007


New Book: 'The True History of Copyright: The Australian Experience 1905-2005'

Ben Atkinson, formerly of the NSW Attorney General's Department, has a new book to be released in November, titled 'The True History of Copyright: The Australian Experience 1905-2005'. The Sydney University Press site on the book states that "The purpose of this book is to examine the historical record - concentrating on the development of copyright law in Australia - to determine the truth of modern assumptions about the origins and function of copyright law." I'll post a book review after it becomes available.

There aren't many books focusing on the history of Australian copyright, so this book will be a welcome addition to the literature. 2007 is shaping up to be a very good year for copyright scholarship, both in Australia and internationally.

Details: Benedict Atkinson, "The True History of Copyright: The Australian Experience 1905-2005", 2007, Sydney University Press, ISBN: 9781920898458. Introduction by Brian Fitzgerald. Find out more and pre-order here.

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Friday, October 19, 2007


Australian Elections 2.0?

The Australian public is going to the polls on 24th November to elect members of our Federal Parliament (the one that sits in Canberra, is currently led by John Howard, and is constantly under siege from members of The Chaser's War on Everything). The calling of the election was a long time coming. Even though we knew that an election would have to take place soon (so says the Constitution), Prime Minister John Howard took his time in announcing the exact date. But now, in the words of one Federal House of Representatives candidate, it's "game on". A normal part of an election process, particularly at such a high level of government, is the holding of debates between party leaders. In Australia, debate is already under way as to who, when, and how these debates should take place.

House of Commons friend and ANU academic Dr. Matthew Rimmer has called for Australia to follow the lead of US Democrats presidential candidate hopeful Barack Obama and allow these debates to be made "freely accessible across all media and technology platforms" (See the ANU Press Release here). In the United States, Obama suggested that the US Democrat debates be either placed in the public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons licence.

Dr Rimmer has said that

"Whichever television networks or internet media end up broadcasting the federal
election debates, it’s important to the health of our democracy that people are
free to capture and distribute the dialogue of our prospective leaders so that
they can make a more informed decision."
The House of Commons strongly supports Dr. Rimmer's suggestion. It is an unusual one in an Australian context - in the United States, there is no copyright in works produced by the US government and thus there is at least a precedent for this type of action. There is also the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, which arguably means that this type of content gains even greater significance. However, there has been a shift in this campaign to Australian political parties embracing all that the digital revolution has to offer (just type 'Kevin07' into Google, for example). A pledge by the parties to make debate materials freely available and accessible via sites such as YouTube would be both a positive and definite step for Australian democracy in the digital age.

The logisitics of such a proposition has also caused much discussion amongst House of Commons housemates. Housemate Ben writes:
"I think election debates should belong to the commons, at least insofar as
complete reproduction is concerned. However, I do see that there are good
reasons not to allow modifications, because they could be used to spread
disinformation at such a crucial time. For these reasons, a licence such as
Creative Commons No Derivatives would be appropriate (as opposed to, say, a
public domain dedication). It's also worth noting that, even under such a
licence, derivatives could be made for the purpose of satire (correct me if I'm
wrong here!), and that could perhaps be both a good and a bad thing (I'm not
sure to what extent you could use the satire exception to spread
In response, Housemate Abi has agreed (and I concur) that the parody or satire fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act could probably be used to create parodies, although there issue regarding modifications may need to be addressed.

For more information on Dr. Rimmer's proposal, the ANU Press Release can be found here.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Increasing Consumers Voice in Intellectual Property Policy - A Consumers International World Congress Side Event

(Via Choice)
9:00am - 5:00pm, October 29, 2007 (North Sydney)

Consumers' rights to use intellectual property are increasingly under threat. Policy is made at an international level - how can national consumer organisations work better to strengthen their voice on the global stage? This interactive one-day forum will introduce current campaigns and brainstorm ideas for action to reassert consumer rights.

Speakers include:
The full program is available here.

Presented by: Consumers International, Choice, Consumers Union, Consumentenbond, Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD).

Registration in advance is required. General attendance: $65. Students/Academics/Employees of NGOs: $25. Please contact Lizzie Ball (CHOICE) at or +61.2.95773372. Registration fee includes Morning Tea, Lunch and Afternoon Tea

For more information about the Consumers International World Conference 2007 see this page.

The Unlocking IP team will be there. Hope to see you there too!

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Monday, October 15, 2007


Subsidised Music Subscription Service to Compete with iTunes

(Via Ars Technica) BusinessWeek reports that Universal Music is looking to compete with the Apple iTunes music store by offering a music subscription service called Total Music. From the reports, it seems that Universal is looking to explore different business models, such as using hardware makers or cell carriers to subsidise the subscription fee, and allowing the user to download unlimited amounts of music. It appears that affiliated companies would have Total Music offered as a bundle with their product, increasing the value of the product (and possibly the price) and moving more units.

I would like to know more about how the products and the subscription service would be priced in Australia and what part DRM would play (preferably no part). I would also be interested in finding out if the subscription service would be a service in its own right- or only available with certain products. It seems that there is some interesting potential here for reviving music sales and a very real threat to Apple if this gets off the ground.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The Many Non-American Faces of the Public Domain

Book Review: 'Intellectual Property: The Many Faces of the Public Domain'
Edited by Charlotte Waelde and Hector MacQueen
(2007, Edward Elgar, UK)

In the growing body of scholarship on the public domain in copyright law, it seems as though many articles contain the same footnote. It will be early on the article or chapter and will feature names that any public domain scholar, from any jurisdiction, will recognise as easily as they would the name ‘George W. Bush’. Those names will include (and, although I’m writing this off the top of my head, this is probably the exact order that these names would appear): David Lange, Jessica Litman, Edward Samuels, Keith Aoki, Yochai Benkler, Lawrence Lessig, James Boyle, Pamela Samuelson. Occasionally there will be some variation: an author will recognise an earlier work, or a work in the middle, and a few names afterwards. My own work usually features such a footnote, although my thesis explores the public domain musings of each of these scholars in greater detail.

The Waelde and MacQueen edited book, Intellectual Property: The Many Faces of Public Domain, does not feature any of these ‘usual suspects’. Instead, the authors of the many chapters in this book contribute to public domain literature with a number of new, non-United States perspectives that undoubtedly ‘enrich’ (to use a term of Pamela Samuelson’s) the growing body of scholarship on this concept. There is no great emphasis on the United States copyright clause or First Amendment here. That is not to underestimate the quality or impact of public domain scholarship on those American issues; in fact, in seeking to explore constitutional aspects of the Australian public domain this literature has been invaluable. However, as many public domain scholars have noted, there are numerous public domains and the various contributors in this edition each construct this concept in very different ways and contexts.

Indeed, the chapters provide numerous perspectives and views of the public domain, ranging from the historical or theoretical, to the much more practical. F. Willem Grosheide’s chapter “In Search of the Public Domain During the Prehistory of Copyright Law” provides an interesting historical introduction to the edition, while in “Copyright’s Public Domain” Ronan Deazley dives head first into the basics of constructing the public domain, and in the tradition of Pamela Samuelson, provides a number of useful illustrations (given the number of issues and constructions that can be raised in public domain literature, I would say that the more illustrations, the better). John Cahir also raises a particularly topical question in his chapter, “The Public Domain: Right or Liberty”: is there a right to the public domain? Such a question and, indeed, many of the issues raised in this book arguably warrant a book/thesis/number of volumes of their own.

Other chapters build on recurring themes in public domain discourse. In his chapter, “The Public Domain and the Creative Author”, Bill Thompson reflects on the public domain, creativity, culture and authorship (and manages to reference Leonardo DiCaprio, Star Trek, The Simpsons, Hamlet and Moby Dick among others in the one chapter- excellent work). Further Johanna Gibson’s chapter “Audiences in Tradition: Traditional Knowledge and the Public Domain” discusses a number of recurring issues regarding the interrelationship between traditional knowledge and the public domain, while also raising the often-neglected question of who constitutes the ‘public’ in these types of discussions.

These are only a sample of chapters in this book; but it should be apparent to the reader that the chapters in Intellectual Property: The Many Faces of the Public Domain encapsulate a number of public domain issues, some new, some recurring. For any public domain or copyright scholar, this is a must-have book; or, even for those who are not so familiar with these issues, the various contributors raise a number of thought-provoking intellectual property issues. I would like to conclude with a quote from Bill Thompson (not regarding Leonardo DiCaprio). He states that (at p. 132):

“The public domain is little understood, rarely defended in the public prints
and under constant attack from those who would have all works of the human
imagination kept under lock and key through a combination of perpetual copyright
and technological protection measures. Even while it persists it is often
hard to determine whether a particular piece of work is in the public domain,
and since the rules differ in different jurisdictions the status of all but the
most obvious – for which read ‘older’ - works must often be considered
questionable.” (citations omitted)

The same is true of the Australian situation. Books such as Intellectual Property: The Many Faces of the Public Domain make us realise these issues, with a view to exploring their implication at a national and international, online and offline, level.

(Next up - a review of 'Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution: Hands off my iPod', by Dr. Matthew Rimmer, ANU College of Law)

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Advance Australia Fair? The Copyright Reform Process

Housemates Abi and Catherine, and project chief investigator Graham Greenleaf have been published in the Journal of World Intellectual Property. They were too modest to post about it themselves, but something has to be said! I mean, if I was published in the Journal of World Artificial Intelligence, well I'd want to tell everyone :) (not that there's a journal called the Journal of World Artificial Intelligence, but that's not the point!).

So without further ado, here's the link: Advance Australia Fair? The Copyright Reform Process.

Now, I'm no legal expert, and I have to admit the article was kind of over my head. But, by way of advertisement, here are some keywords I can pluck out of the paper as relevant:
Not to mention all the courts and cases that get involved. Anyway, that should be enough to whet your appetite. Get reading it; get citing it ;)

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


Quick question

Hello friendly readers. I just got this completely random e-mail from someone in Helsinki, I think, completely out of the blue:
I'm working on human embryonic stem cell research and patenting of those in Australia but from overseas. I was wondering whether you are aware of any Australian IP (that would cover patents) or patent blogs maybe.
I don't know of any such blogs, but I have to admit to not paying as much attention to the world of patents as I do of copyright. But for the sake of being helpful I decided to ask around. So if anyone has any good Australian patent law related web resources, drop a comment on this post and I'll pass it on.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007


GPL didn't get its day in court

A few days ago, housemate Abi posted about action being taken in court over a GPL violation in the US. And I'm sure astute readers who looked at the facts thought "what? that's so obviously violation. how can they possibly think they had the right to do that?" I know that's what I thought. Of course along with that thought goes another thought: this will be another win we can chalk up on the side of the GPL and the Free Software Foundation.

Anyway, the point is, it won't be getting to court because the defendants capitulated. According to Linux Watch, Monsoon Multimedia "admitted today that it had violated the GPLv2 (GNU General Public License version 2), and said it will release its modified BusyBox code in full compliance with the license."

This shows that the system works. The GPL must be clear enough that it is obvious what you can't do. (Okay, there's still some discussion, but on the day to day stuff, everything is going just fine).

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007


"It's Up To You...No Really, It's Up To You"

Radiohead's seventh album "In Rainbows" will be released in a couple of days and what really has people buzzing about it is the fact that it's left up to you to decide how much you want to pay for it. The album will be available for digital download exclusively through Radiohead's website. The price field is left blank for you to complete. When you hit the '?' button the website tells you "It's up to you" clicking '?' again leads to the site urging, "No really, it's up to you".

While this isn't the first time an artist has made their music available for free legal download on the internet it is the first time that I am aware of successful artists asking fans to pay what they want for their music (although this is somewhat similar to honesty box policies on donations). The digital download will be available months before the physical discbox (for 40 pounds you get vinyl records, enhanced CD with extra sounds, artwork and other extras). I have always supported looking at different business models to deal with IP. The diehard fans will definitely purchase the discbox, supporters will throw in a couple of dollars. This might work for an established well-respected band like Radiohead but how would disposable pop fare? Earlier this year Nine Inch Nails criticised their record company for selling their album for much more money than other newly released music in Australia (e.g. $34.99 versus Avril Lavigne at $21.99) because their core audience will pay whatever it costs to own their latest record (whereas some pop has to be discounted to sell units). In September, at a concert, after discovering that prices had not changed the band ushered fans to "STEAL IT. Steal away. Steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing. Because one way or another these [bleep]s will get it through their head that they're ripping people off and that that's not right." (Read more on NIN in this post on Defending Scoundrels). It would appear that Radiohead's proposal is fairer for fans because at least they are given a choice about what premium they will pay. A ‘pay what you want’ system might even get the best artists floating to the top.

Radiohead will be boosted by the extra publicity- but will others follow suit? We will also discover some interesting things about how consumers believe music should be priced. At the very least, it seems that more people will have copies of this album increasing the market for future tours and other merchandise and products.

If this is the IP revolution- sign me up!

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