Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, University of New South Wales
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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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Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Tune out, Rock on

The music industry is once again raising its shrill voice against ‘piracy’, running a campaign featuring a video starring well-known Australian musos. Artists including members of Silverchair, the Veronicas, and Jimmy Barnes discuss the ins and outs of being a musician, under the tag line: “just paying the rent", "not living like a rock star".

Musos who might actually be having difficulty paying their rent were notably absent from the credits – presumably they couldn’t get someone else to fill in for them down at the café that day, or were too busy uploading their latest single onto Trig.

Unsurprisingly, the campaign has become controversial, inciting much media commentary (check some out here, and here) and raising the ire of Frenzal Rhomb guitarist Lindsay McDougall. McDougall originally appeared in the video, and now says it was on false pretences. According to Crikey, he was

“furious at being ‘lumped in with this witch hunt’ and that he had been ‘completely taken out of context and defamed’ by the Australian music industry, which funded the video. He said he was told the 10-minute film, which is being distributed for free to all high schools in Australia, was about trying to survive as an Australian musician and no one mentioned the video would be used as part of an anti-piracy campaign.” (Crikey)

The original clip including his input has been removed, but is archived.

And what would a debate involving artists’ rights be without a manifesto? ‘Tune out’ has obligingly penned one in response to the In Tune campaign.

Perhaps in an effort to appear marginally down-with-the-kids, the industry campaign page has this pseudo-licence, below, in its footer. It is in some ways similar to a ‘Free for Education’- style licence, and/or may invite the false expectation that they support a sort of personal "fair use" model in some circumstances:

“In Tune was produced with the support of the Australian music industry.
In Tune can be used for personal use and as a free non-commercial
educational resource. For more info, email:"

So, there you have it – the kid drummer from Operator Please thinks MySpace is pretty cool, Lindsay McDougall continues to stick it to the Man, and the Veronicas look flawless even when they’re concerned and slightly annoyed.

Thank goodness for free (for educational purposes only) online videos.

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