Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, University of New South Wales
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009


OMG! IceTV Won!! (6-0!)

According to a press release on the IceTV website, IceTV have won in the High Court!!!

IceTV's General Manager, Matt Kossatz notes:
“Today’s decision is the news that we (IceTV), our staff and our loyal subscribers have waited 3 long years to hear. We would like to thank everyone for their continued support.”
UPDATE: THE HIGH COURT DECISION IS AVAILABLE HERE (6-0!). We will read and digest the judgment and get back to you!

More information about the case's history is available in our last few posts about IceTV here and here.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009


Unlocking IP Conference - Registrations Now Open

Sophia blogged earlier about the upcoming Unlocking IP Conference 2009.

The registration form and draft program is now available.

Hope to see you there!

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Monday, October 20, 2008


Australian Institute of Criminology report on 'Intellectual property crime and enforcement in Australia'

Last week the Australian Institute of Criminology released its report on Intellectual property crime and enforcement in Australia, with some very interesting findings. I haven't had a chance to go through the whole report yet but I just wanted to make a general comment about this statement, which I find completely unsurprising (at p. 38):

An Envisional study found Australia was the second-largest downloader of online
pirated TV shows in the world (15.6%), behind the UK (18.5%) but ahead of the US
(7.3%). Australians were the leading downloaders of pirated TV programs on a per
capita basis. The report found that increased bandwidth take-up, technological
advances and a high demand for US-based TV shows are some of the reasons that
piracy has boomed. Seventy percent of the piracy occurs through BitTorrent (BT)
(Envisional 2004, BBC News 2005, Reuters 2005). The survey found that the top TV show downloads were 24, Stargate Atlantis, The Simpsons, Enterprise, Stargate
SG-1, OC, Smallville, Desperate Housewives, Battlestar Galactica and Lost (Idato

Australia is, and has always been, since colonial times, an importer or 'user' nation of copyright-protected materials, so it came as no surprise to me that we were the second-largest illegal downloader of television shows. The fact that Australia is an 'importer nation' was picked up in the Spicer Committee's report and then later with regard to the intellectual property package of the AUSFTA. Back in the ye olde colonial days, the majority of our books were imported from the United Kingdom, with many UK publishers and then eventually some colonial publishers, producing specific 'colonial editions' for sale in Australia. As Martyn Lyons has noted in a chapter of the fantastic A History of the Book in Australia 1891 - 1945, Australia earned itself the reputation as being 'the jewel of Britain's book trade empire.' (see Martyn Lyons, 'Britain's Largest Export Market', in Lyons & Arnold (eds) A History of the Book in Australia 1891 - 1945, 2001, at p. 19).

Until about five years ago, a similar statement could be made regrding Australia's importation of international television shows, predominantly from the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom (I think The Bill and Jane Austen miniseries adaptations would comprise a lot of that market!) And, just as in the colonies Australian readers had to pay a considerable amount more than their UK counterparts to purchase the latest fiction, Australians had to wait a long time to see new episodes of their favourite TV shows.

The West Wing is an excellent example - originally it was aired on the Nine Network, who changed the time and date of broadcast so often that many viewers began to resort to to get the latest series on DVD. Eventually (thankfully) it was picked up by the ABC and the sixth and seventh seasons were shown weekly until the end of the series.

With examples like this, it is really no surprise that Australians have turned to the Internet to catch their favourite shows just after they have been aired in the United States. This is not to suggest that I support this type of behaviour but it poses a challenge to the free-to-air networks in Australia to change their business models, and I know a number have. In an article published yesterday in the Sun-Herald newspaper (accessible of the Sydney Morning Herald website here) it is noted that shows such as House and the US version of Kath & Kim are appearing about one-three days after they appear in the States. Yet some very popular shows, for example, Heroes, are still taking over a fortnight to get to our screens, though that is still being described as 'fast-tracked'. Not fast enough, clearly.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008


The IceTV Hearing

The High Court has now heard the appeal in IceTV v Nine Network (previously blogged about here, here and here). The House of Commons has received several kind tip-offs about the hearing, but as this housemate just finished a thesis chapter and the last thing that I wrote on was originality under the 1968 Act, a few days were needed to re-group.

The proceedings began on Thursday morning and the Australian Digital Alliance and Telstra were both granted amicus status, the ADA for IceTV and Telstra for Nine Network. David Catterns, the barrister who successfully argued for CAL in the recent CAL v NSW decision appeared for Telstra. The hearing took the better part of Thursday and Friday and the transcript of the Thursday proceedings can be found on AustLII here.

As I said, this is the first of a few posts on the hearing, so I will have more of a discussion up within the next few days.

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Friday, October 10, 2008


Untitled #1

During an Alice Springs gallery visit last Friday, Arts Minister Peter Garrett energetically hyped the great benefits that a resale royalty scheme will apparently confer on visual artists in Australia. The proposed legislation to establish a right to resale royalties for visual artists is expected to be in place by mid-2009.

The announcement that the royalty scheme will soon be a reality is undoubtedly good news for many visual artists. Royalties will be payable upon all ‘original works of graphic or plastic art’ that sell for $1000 or more, upon their second sale. The right will apply to all eligible works that are acquired after the legislation commences – whether the first acquisition or transfer of ownership was by gift, inheritance, sale, or some other means. The royalty payable will be calculated at an uncapped flat rate of 5% of the resale price.

The media release reporting Garrett’s announcement pointed to a number of advantages in the introduction of the scheme: Indigenous artists and their estates will benefit from both the significant increases in price that many works are now fetching on the secondary market, as well as the requirements for greater accountability and record-keeping that will be contained in the legislation. Visual artists in general will benefit from the fact that a right to royalties places them in the same field as artists working in the mediums of music, film, literature and so forth, where royalties are an established part of those artists’ income from their work.

Unsurprisingly, a few significant factors were conveniently glossed over during the fanfare. Firstly, the definition of what will constitute a ‘work of art’ appears to contain some substantial holes. The definition proposed will be based upon that utilised in the EU, and covers works in such media including “a painting, a collage, a drawing, a limited edition print, a sculpture, a ceramic, an item of glassware or a photograph”. Video/digital/new media are conspicuously absent from this definition, and it will be interesting to see how (or if) the right also applies to works that are sold as ‘installation’-type suites, including video, sound and so on.

Further issues are raised when the outcomes of the scheme, and precisely who will benefit, are considered. While Indigenous artists have been a particular (and deserving) focus in this aspect of the debate over introduction of the scheme, the Discussion Paper issued by DCITA in 2004 made the point that often, female artists (from all backgrounds) are underrepresented in the secondary art market (2004, p34); male artists, and especially white male artists, are by far the dominant group in terms of whose work fetches significant prices upon resale. While the $1000 minimum resale price opens the scheme to many visual artists, the recurring issue of whose art is bought and sold more often, involving arguments about gender/culture/race and the art market, are unavoidable.

The resale royalty scheme is a valuable and long-overdue right for visual artists. Re-examining how a ‘work of art’ is to be defined will be an important aspect in the drafting of the legislation, and hopefully one that is paid due attention considering the increasing interest in new/digital media in contemporary art practice. Most importantly, the scheme is certainly not a final answer to supporting the entire visual arts community, in all its diversity. As the Arts Law Centre stated in its response to the Discussion Paper:
…this is but one mechanism for increasing the income steam of artists in Australia. It does not negate the need for other support mechanisms being available to visual artists and craftspeople, such as increased funding to the visual arts and many of the other proposals outlined in the Myer Report (2004, p6).

Indeed, this blogger is waiting with interest to see which killer arts policy is next heralded by Peter Garret.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008


'What History Teaches Us About Copyright Injunctions'

Sent through to the House of Commons by Professor Kathy Bowrey:

For readers interested in reading more on copyright's early history (1500-1800) and unable to spend a month or two at Kew public records, there is a great article by H. Tomas Gomez Arostegui, 'What History Teaches Us About Copyright Injunctions and the Inadequate-Remedy-at-Law Requirement', 81 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1197 (2008).

Tomas has also started compiling a website where he includes an Appendix of Copyright Infringement Suits & Actions From c. 1560 to 1800, and pdfs of some of the cases. More cases to follow as he expands the resource. You can find this all here.

It is a really impressive project.

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Friday, October 03, 2008


Resale Royalty Rights - Coming Soon

According to this media release (via the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett) we can expect the implementation of a resale royalty rights scheme for Australian visual artists by 1 July next year.

More info is available here.

Sophia has previously blogged about the proposed scheme here.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008


Bowrey on Originality

As many readers will know, the issue of originality within Australian copyright law is currently a hotly contested issue, with the appeal in the IceTV v Nine Network decision to be heard before the High Court in two weeks time, on the 16th and 17th October.

Professor Kathy Bowrey, author of Law and Internet Cultures and House of Commons friend (and one of my supervisors), has recently penned an article on these issues, titled 'On clarifying the role of originality and fair use in 19th century UK jurisprudence: appreciating "the humble grey which emerges as the result of long controversy"'. Kathy's article has a slightly different focus: tackling originality in 19th century case law and how this concept developed. The abstract states:
Understanding nineteenth century precedent is one of the more difficult tasks in
copyright today. This paper considers why the nineteenth century cases and
treatises failed to clearly identify what the author owns of “right” and the
implications for the criterion of originality and for determining infringement
You can find it in the UNSW Law Research Series here and for any readers interested in the forthcoming IceTV case this is a must-read. Two weeks to go...

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State Library of New South Wales on Flickr Commons

Being a very dedicated PhD student, I spend a lot of time in libraries, and the State Library of New South Wales is one of my favourite to visit. The Mitchell Collection of the State Library, housed next to the Domain, is in my view one of the best libraries in Australia and houses an immense collection of colonial (and yes, more recent) documents.

On a recent trip when I was undertaking research into colonial publishing practices, I was lucky enough to access a copy of Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, which was published as part of Petherick's Collection of Favourite and Approved Authors. That series, published by E.A. Petherick & Co. was one of the few series of books published by local publishers. The copy of Tess that I handled was a beautiful book, published in 1892. The State Library staff kindly informed me that there were more recent editions of Hardy that I could have a look at...and then looked slightly confused when I wanted a copy of the inside covers of the book (which contained a listing of all the books in the Petherick can read exactly why I wanted to see this when I finish my thesis in about six months time).

This walk down memory lane is an avenue for announcing that the State Library of New South Wales has just released rare Australian photographs from its archive onto Flickr. If that copy of Tess was anything to go by then there are going to be more than a few cultural gems released as part of this collection. You can find the complete photostream here but I thought I would include one photo in this post, which would allow me to continue my time travel through Australian history:

Sir Isaac Isaacs and Lady Isaacs, photographed by Sam Hood, from the collections of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, featured on the SLNSW Flickr photostream here, persistent URL here.

For those of you who are not familiar with Sir Isaac, he was Australia's first native-born Governer-General and the 3rd Chief Justice of our High Court. Sir Isaac dissented in the first case on the power of the Parliament to make laws with respect to copyrights, patents of invention and designs, and trade marks (section 51(xviii)) in Attorney General (NSW) ex rel Tooth & Co Ltd v Brewery Employees Union of NSW.
This concludes today's lengthy lesson on Australian copyright and cultural history!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


IceTV Granted Special Leave to Appeal

Today IceTV was granted special leave to appeal to the High Court.

Another copyright case in the High Court? Be very afraid.

In May 2008 the Full Federal Court handed down its decision in the IceTV case, overturning the first instance decision and cementing (or so we thought...and so we will probably find out again) the far reach of copyright protection in Australia for compilations. IceTV's production of a subscription based interactive electronic program guide (EPG) was found to infringe copyright in Channel Nine's program schedule. Nine contended that IceTV had indirectly copied their program guides by using online aggregated guides. The Full Court (from the people that brought you Desktop Marketing) found that regardless of how IceTV created their EPG template (IceTV claim this was created by actually watching the television and noting down the programs and times, a process described as 'torture' at [41]), they did breach copyright by incorporating last minute program changes made by Channel Nine (IceTV compared their template to the schedules available in aggregated TV guides and updated accordingly). By updating the programming guide IceTV took a substantial part of Nine's program schedule and infringed copyright.

The Full Bench noted that the question of substantiality depends more upon the quality rather the quantity of what is taken:

"When the quality of the material taken by Ice is considered, the substantiality of the part taken becomes even clearer" (at [115]).

Apparently by 'copying' week to week changes IceTV "appropriated the most creative elements of the skill and labour utilised by Nine in creating the Weekly Schedules" (at [115]).

Will IceTV get up on appeal? Magic 8 ball says 'outlook not so good'...but the battle rages on...and we wait with bated breath.

Kim Weatherall has written some excellent commentary about the case here and here. It is also worthwhile to take a look at IceTV Iced: Kangaroos Hopping Mad by U.S. copyright guru, Bill Patry.

[Update: The High Court transcript is now available. Further reading at Peter Vogel's blog (IceTV's former CTO) and slides from this presentation by David Lindsay which Cath linked to earlier.]

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Thursday, August 14, 2008


US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upholds free copyright licence

From the Creative Commons blog:

THE “IP” Court Supports Enforceability of CC Licenses
Brian Rowe, August 13th, 2008

The United States Court of Appeals held that “Open Source” or public license licensors are entitled to copyright infringement relief.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), the leading IP court in the United States, has upheld a free copyright license, while explicitly pointing to the work of Creative Commons and others. The Court held that free licenses such as the CC licenses set conditions (rather than covenants) on the use of copyrighted work. As a result, licensors using public licenses are able to seek injunctive relief for alleged copyright infringement, rather than being limited to traditional contract

Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig explained the theory of all free software, open source, and Creative Commons licenses upheld by the court: “When you violate the condition, the license disappears, meaning you’re simply a copyright infringer. This is the theory of the GPL and all CC licenses. Put precisely, whether or not they are also contracts, they are copyright licenses which expire if you fail to abide by the terms of the license.” Lessig said the ruling provided “important clarity and certainty by a critically important US Court.”

Today’s ruling vacated the district court’s decision and affirmed the availability of remedies based on copyright law for violations of open licenses. The federal court noted that ignoring attribution requirements contained in the license caused reputation and economic harm to the original licensor. This opinion demonstrates a strong understanding of a basic economic principles of the internet; attribution is a valuable economic right in the information economy. Read the full opinion.(PDF)

Creative Commons filed a friends of the court brief in this case. Thanks to all the cosponsors Linux Foundation, The Open Source Initiative, Software Freedom Law Center, the Perl Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation. Significant pro bono work on this brief was provided by Anthony T. Falzone and Christopher K. Ridder of Stanford’s Center for Internet & Society. Read the full brief.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008


CAL v NSW Analysis Part Two: Constitutional Validity of Free Uses of Works By Government

So at the end of my last post I suggested that, if the Government introduced new free use provisions, based on the UK legislative model, to deal with the decision of the High Court in CAL v NSW, then there may be some constitutional problems in doing so. I mentioned two provisions - section 51(xviii), the constitutional copyright power; and section 51(xxxi), the power with respect to acquisition of property on just terms.

Any arguments with respect to section 51(xviii) can arguably be easily dealt with. What's interesting about this power is that, for a long time, it was believed that the Parliament could actually do very little with respect to copyrights because of the narrow interpretation given in the decision of Attorney-General (NSW) ex rel Tooth & Co Ltd v Brewery Employees' Union of NSW [1908] HCA 94; (1908) 6 CLR 469. In that case it was found that the union label trade mark wasn't valid because such marks were not around in 1900, when the Constitution was framed. On that basis, for about eighty-five years it was believed that section 51(xviii) gave the Parliament very narrow power with respect to making IP laws. However, the 1994 decision Nintendo Co Ltd v Centronics Systems Pty Ltd [1994] HCA 27; (1994) 181 CLR 134 and then the subsequent 2000 decision Grain Pool of Western Australia v Commonwealth [2000] HCA 14; 202 CLR 479 - revealed that the HCA believed that section 51(xviii) was quite a wide power, leading to broader concerns that there might not actually be any limits on section 51(xviii).

As such, given this broad interpretation, it would be unlikely that such free use exceptions would fall foul of section 51(xviii), unless some sort of constitutional argument could be raised that the term "copyrights" as it appears in the Constitution requires that remuneration be given to the copyright owner. That, however, would probably cause all types of chaos, and is therefore unlikely. It would be interesting to run though...however, in light of the CAL v NSW decision, I am in no hurry to get another copyright case before the HCA.

It is the second provision, however, that may cause constitutional difficulties for these types of exception. Section 51(xxxi) has occasionally popped up in IP decisions over the last fifteen years (see Australian Tape Manufacturers Association Ltd v Commonwealth [1993] HCA 10; (1993) 176 CLR 480 and Stevens v Kabushiki Kaisha Sony Computer Entertainment [2005] HCA 58; (2005) 221 ALR 448). This constitutional section was actually mentioned at several points in the joint judgment of CAL v NSW:

At [57]: In any event, with an echo of s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution, the Spicer Committee made its recommendation for government use of copyright material in the following terms:[51]
"The Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth has expressed the view that the
Commonwealth and the States should be empowered to use copyright material for
any purposes of the Crown, subject to the payment of just terms to be fixed, in
the absence of agreement, by the Court. A majority of us agree with that view.
The occasions on which the Crown may need to use copyright material are varied
and many. Most of us think that it is not possible to list those matters which
might be said to be more vital to the public interest than others. At the same
time, the rights of the author should be protected by provisions for the payment
of just compensation to be fixed in the last resort by the Court." (emphasis

And then again at paras [68] - [69]:
The purpose of the scheme is to enable governments to use material subject to copyright "for the services of the Crown" without infringement. Certain exclusive rights of the owner of "copyright material" are qualified by Parliament in order to achieve that purpose. It is the statutory qualification of exclusive rights which gives rise to a statutory quid pro quo, namely a statutory right in the copyright owner (here a surveyor) to seek "terms" upon which the State (excepted from infringement by the legislature) may do any act within the copyright (s 183(5)) and to receive equitable remuneration for any "government copies" (s 183A). With reference to the use by the Spicer Committee of the constitutional expression "just terms", it may be added that CAL conducted its case in this Court on the footing that the statutory scheme afforded "just terms" to copyright owners.

Given that CAL proceeded on the basis that the Crown use of copyright statutory licence scheme was "just terms" under section 51(xxxi), then it is arguable that removing this financial aspect may put such a provision in breach of section 51(xxxi). This may particularly be the case if the government continued to charge for the use of the survey plans. Certainly, as the law currently stands, it is available to the Government to use the fair dealing and other exceptions provided in the 1968 Act (in fact, as noted in the CAL v NSW joint judgment, if these provisions apply, then the statutory licence scheme doesn't - see paragraph [11].) However, would the inclusion of provisions that give the government a free pass to use copyright-protected works created by others, for fulfilment of their statutory obligations and what reasonably flows from those obligations, be valid under section 51(xxxi)?

In conclusion, although I have dedicated a whole chapter in my doctoral thesis to determining the boundaries of the copyright power of the Constitution and the concurrent effect on the Australian public domain, I will admit that future intellectual property cases are less likely to be concerned with section 51(18) and more to do with section 51(31). And, to end on a lighter note, that makes The Castle required viewing for anyone involved in intellectual property!

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CAL v NSW Analysis Part One: Possible Statutory Exceptions to Allow This Use

Regular readers will know that I am somewhat inclined to overreaction when the legislature or the judiciary does something with respect to copyright law that I believe errs against reason, common sense, and all the laws of God and mankind. Yesterday's High Court decision in Copyright Agency Limited v State of New South Wales [2008] HCA 35 was possibly one of them, but rather than continue that rant I want to focus on the aftermath on the case.

In the course of the decision, the High Court referred to the position in other jurisdictions with respect to Crown use of copyright works. It cited the UK position under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (UK) and the different types of what it would describe as "free use provisions" under that law. These are exceptions to infringement on the grounds of different types of public administration:
My immediate response to the CAL v NSW High Court decision (admittedly after the initial shock) was that the Federal Government could introduce provisions along these lines that would allow it to use materials for certain circumstances for free, beyond the fair dealing provisions, which would allow it to get around the issues created by the statutory licence scheme. Yes, the statutory licence scheme is actually supposed to ensure that copyright owners get paid for many of these types of uses. However, surely we can distinguish between uses that are connected to the undertaking of a statutory requirement and other uses for which the copyright owner should be remunerated. For example, a department produces a fact sheet on the perils of sunburn and uses as part of that fact sheet copyright protected photographs of people enjoying themselves at the beach. There is arguably no reason why such photographs need to be included, and in this case it would be preferable for the government to be charged for the use of those particular photographs.

Even without that distinction, however, another argument rears its head: the constitutionality of introducing such free use provisions. Two sections of the Australian Constitution would arguably be involved: section 51(xviii), which gives the Federal Parliament the power to make laws with respect to "Copyrights, patents of inventions and designs, and trade marks"; and section 51(xxxi), which also provides power to the Federal Parliament to make laws with respect to "The acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws."

I have just realised that this post is getting very long, so it is going to be split into two. Constitutional analysis forthcoming!

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Thursday, July 31, 2008


Australia's New Chief Justice and Copyright Law

Yesterday the Federal Attorney-General, Mr. Robert McClelland, announced the appointment of a new Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Justice Robert French, who currently serves on the Federal Court of Australia. Justice French will replace the current Chief Justice, Murray Gleeson, when he retires at the end of August. Justice French is the first Chief Justice of the High Court to ever come from Western Australia. Apparently Mr. McClelland overlooked my previous offer to become Chief Justice when the position came up. No hard feelings though.

Whenever a new judge is appointed to the High Court, questions always arise as to the types of decision that judge is likely to make. In a Sydney Morning Herald article on the new appointment political commentator Mark Davis notes that Justice French was one of the judges who recently struck down the World Youth Day laws passed by the NSW Parliament that made it illegal to "annoy" pilgrims at that event. However, as the article also notes, "he was also one of the judges who upheld the Howard government's move in 2001 to block refugees on the the Tampa entering Australia."

Being a keen copyright researcher, however, I was interested in the previous copyright law decisions of the new Chief Justice - and there are quite a few. Indeed, Justice French has sat on many of the significant copyright decisions of the previous decade. Justice French was one of the members of the Full Federal Court who in Kabushiki Kaisha Sony Entertainment v Stevens found that the access code in Sony Playstation games and the BootROM of the Sony Playstation constituted a technological protection measure that was circumvented by Stevens' mod chips , a decision that was subsequently overturned by the High Court. His Honour also was one of the members of the Full Court in Cooper v Universal Music Australia, where authorisation of copyright infringement via online downloading was found to occur.

To me, however, the most interesting judgment of Justice French was in Venus Adult Shops Pty Ltd v Fraserside Holdings Ltd. This was a joint judgment written by French J and another member of the Federal Court who has subsequently been appointed to the High Court, Justice Susan Kiefel. To cut a long copyright case short, in that decision the Full Federal Court considered the infringement of copyright in a number of pornographic films. As part of their decision, French and Kiefel JJ considered whether copyright could be denied to such materials based on their illegality (adult films are actually illegal in most Australian jurisdictions), or whether the remedies available to the plaintiff could be limited on the basis of their content. On the former argument, their Honours stated that (at para. 84):

There is therefore no statutory basis under existing Australian copyright law
for a finding that copyright does not subsist because the content of the
relevant work or subject matter offends against community values or standards.
That is not to say that such considerations may not inform the discretion to
award particular classes of remedy but the scope of such an exercise of
discretion would seem to be narrow.
It will be interesting to see, should a relevant case arise in the future, public policy will play any role in determining the remedies in those decisions.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Appeal decision in Channel Nine v Ice TV Copyright Society Seminar

For those readers who attended the event, and those who didn't but have a keen interest in copyright law, the Powerpoint presentation from David Lindsay's seminar on the Full Court decision in Nine Network Australia v IceTV is now available here.

As regular readers will know, I love a good copyright case, but to be honest with you, there's something about the way Australian courts have dealt with compilation copyright that just makes me want to bang my head on a table. That said, I thought that David's seminar was very good. It will be interesting to see whether the case goes to the High Court, given its previous rejection of the special leave to appeal Desktop Marketing v Telstra, a case with the capability to destroy the spirit of even the most passionate copyright scholar.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Thrilling Goings-on in the Wonderful World of Copyright Law

The ACTA saga continues, with the Australian Digital Alliance's press release zeroing in on the impenetrable veil of secrecy surrounding negotiations of the proposed Agreement. This follows media coverage, articles, and blog posts - including those on The Patry Copyright Blog, LawFont and House of Commons - debating just how sketchy the few available details about the Agreement are, and wide appeals to allow some level of public consultation on the Agreement in Australia.

In other copyright news, the Attorney-General's Department has tabled its Review of Sections 47J and 110AA: Copyright Exceptions for Private Copying of Photographs and Films. The Review recommends that no amendments be made to the provisions for the time being, gesturing to the relatively short period of operation of the provisions as one reason for this.

In the UK, 'Mr Modchips' has survived a copyright stoush, with judgement in his favour handed down by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Div). It was found that any alleged copyright infringement would have taken place prior to use of the modchips. It will be interesting to see whether the judgement prompts legislative action, as occured following the decision of the somewhat similar case of Stevens v Sony in the High Court of Australia.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008


Gettin' Medieval On Yo' iPod

The prospect of wanton destruction or confiscation of iPods, laptops and other devices suspected of containing copyright-infringeing content has become increasingly real, with news of a proposed international agreement on copyright policing surfacing recently.

A leaked 'discussion paper' on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on Wikileaks, since taken up by other bloggers and mainstream news outlets, has inspired exasperation and outrage in many quarters. It is expected that a draft Agreement will be tabled at the upcoming G8 summit in Tokyo, and it reads like a copyright law wish-list drafted by large record companies and movie studios.

Under the proposed Agreement, border security and other such officials in member States would have powers of search and siezure, where they have a suspicion - and mere suspicion would likely be enough - that an electronic device holds content that might infringe copyright. As Graeme Philipson (The Age) points out, because the discretionary power would be in the hands of security guards and acted upon immediately, there would be no involvement of courts or lawyers, and little chance for appeal. The copyright owner would be removed from the process of suing for infringement upon some evidence that it has actually occured.

In effect, a bunch of security guards at an airport could decide they 'suspect' you of being an infringinger and annihilate your iPod or laptop. (The fact that this could herald a whole new genre of 'profiling', a la 'terrorist suspect of middle-eastern appearance', is another matter. How do you spot a copyright infringer?)

Of more concern is that, because the security officials would also be able to determine what is or is not 'infringing', already-weak fair use/fair dealing type provisions that still offer at least some protection would arguably go out the window completely. Just picture trying to argue with humourless airport security staff that you're carrying a disk full of burned content to use for the purpose of parody. After a long-haul flight. With the prospect of all your other devices being searched as well. And then confiscated because they don't like your attitude.

Obviously, the only people who think this sounds like a great idea have been some US-based record and movie companies. Apparently, they have been throwing 'contributions' at US Congress members to 'encourage' sponsorship of the proposed Agreement.

This all has the vague stench of cultural oppression about it - it's a piece of paper being promoted by culturally and economically dominant groups. It empowers state servants to act outside the law and any kind of due process, make judgements about those crossing a border, and perform random search/seize/destroy activities without room for argument. The US will undoubtedly be urging other nations to sign up (or else). Finally, the fact that the Agreement has been drafted with little public discussion and largely kept secret does nothing to allay the sense that there are some serious problems with the way that copyright 'patrolling' is heading.

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Friday, June 06, 2008


Pirates on the high ©s

News from the treacherous waters of online piracy:

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft will reportedly be launching a new campaign aimed at school-aged children and teens this month. In an effort to sell the idea that downloading copyright films and television shows is a no-no, children and young people will be encouraged to produce their own films, thereby convincing them that shelling out for a movie ticket and overpriced popcorn is a sign of moral fortitude (and isn’t that the goal of every teenager?).

On the one hand, educating young people about the intricacies of copyright law, and how this affects a fairly normalised behaviour among their peer-groups, is a positive step. Ever-increasing attempts by industry bodies to crack down on online 'piracy', including leaning on ISPs to start dispensing ‘justice’ on industry’s behalf, means that knowing about the potential risks is the best way to enable young people to make informed choices about their online activities.

AFACT also points out that it wants to convey how damaging to local film-making and industry investment illegal downloads can be. This blogger has some sympathy with that point – life in the film and TV industry, particularly in Australia, involves constant scratching for cash and other resources, for all but the biggest players. Continuing investment in the local industry (at all levels) depends on the commercial success of what are usually very expensive, highly speculative undertakings. While arguably it is foreign product that is usually downloaded, the overall profitablity of the sector (here and in the US) impacts how local studios and projects are funded. For example, dwindling attendance numbers at cinemas (which are never the most profitable businesses to start with) leads to rising ticket and concession prices, which leads to fewer screens showing a narrower range of product, leading to greater difficulty in getting local content out to the audience, equalling low regard and even lower funding for Australian film and tv.

On the other hand, however, allowing the message to be watered down to the equivalent of a patronising ‘Stealing is Bad’ is unlikely to move the target audience. Following the laughable In Tune campaign featuring successful musicians discussing life as a struggling artiste, it can only be hoped that the AFACT campaign demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of its target audience and their concerns. The more emphasis on fact and an understanding of copyright law (and potential risks involved in its contravention), the better.

Still on the subject of incurring the wrath of copyright owners – in May, a US jury handed down a guilty verdict against a man charged with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement. 25 year-old Barry Gitarts was allegedly a member of Apocalypse Production Crew, a group specialising in making pre-release copyright recordings available online as MP3 files for download. Typically, the RIAA could barely contain its glee at the verdict. The potential sentence for the unfortunate Barry includes up to 5 years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and making full restitution.

In this blogger's opinion, Gitarts would make a far more compelling poster-boy for any anti-piracy campaign than the Veronicas.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008


C.C.T.V. Eye

Manchester band The Get Out Clause has been grabbing news space in recent weeks for their creative approach to living in the modern surveillance state that is the UK.

Being poor musicians with nary a cent to fund a flashy music clip, the band simply set up their gear around the city streets of Manchester and performed for the omnipresent CCTV cameras. Cunning use of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (UK) delivered the requested footage into their hands, which they edited into a clip now doing the rounds of Youtube and various news outlets.

Aside from putting a new spin on the notion of creativity and the 'commons', this raises a few interesting copyright questions. Housemate Abi and I, via our friend Google, did some cursory investigation: according to info on the Office of Public Sector Information site,
'The supply of documents under FOI does not give the person who receives the information an automatic right to re-use the documents without obtaining the consent of the copyright holder.'
This, however, applies to information listed in a publication scheme, and a quick look over the FOI Act itself suggests that it doesn't contain express provisions about copyright in material acquired under the Act.

So does the UK government (or whoever it outsources the CCTV collection to) own the original footage - does that footage even fall under the Copyright Act in the UK?? Does any licence to 'use' the acquired material also include rebroadcasting - and where would fair dealing fit in here? Might a similar film-making method work in Australia (although use of street CCTV is somewhat less prevalent, at least for now)??

All food for thought, especially for those more au fait with UK law than this blogger...

It remains to be seen whether CCTV DIY will take off as something of a trend - if it does, brace yourselves for an onslaught of arty types 'performing' in front of a public wall or train ceiling near you.

CCTV may have more to answer for than we first thought...

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Thursday, May 15, 2008


Cheque’s finally in the mail for (some) artists

The recently released Federal Budget held at least one item of interest for the nation’s starving artists: a planned $1.5 million to be spent on establishing a resale royalty scheme. Such a scheme has long been advocated for (by Matthew Rimmer and the Arts Law Centre, amongst many others), in order to bring Australia into line with other jurisdictions including those in Europe, and North and Latin America.

The move to ensure that visual artists benefit from appreciation in the value of their works has been seen as particularly significant for Indigenous artists. Considering the current market for Australian Indigenous artists’ works, a right to resale royalties would translate to a not-insubstantial extra income for some better-known, sought-after artists.

The interesting part will be watching how the scheme develops – at the moment, tenders to administer the scheme should be sought in the later part of this year. For example, nothing appears to have been decided about the term that the right will operate for – that is, whether it will operate on the basis of life + 70 years, or how payments to estates of deceased artists might be managed.

At the same time as K-Rudd gives, however, he also taketh away.

Funding for some other arts sectors has, of course, been slashed – for example, the regional arts fund. So, if you’re an incredibly talented, established (and probably, quite old) artist, whose work has had the benefits of time and hype to appreciate (and which actually sells)– lucky you. That royalty cheque may be in the mail sooner than you thought.

For all those struggling unknowns out there, well, there’s every chance that the program you were relying on for a kick start may be pulled.

Looks like that starving artist cliché will be around (and pulling you a beer) for a while yet.

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