Thursday, June 12, 2008
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.
Friday, June 06, 2008
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
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
In this blogger's opinion, Gitarts would make a far more compelling poster-boy for any anti-piracy campaign than the Veronicas.