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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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Friday, June 08, 2007


Tintin v. The Copyright Amendment Blob

Bill Leak, cartoonist with The Australian, has been depicting Labor leader Kevin Rudd as Tintin since December 2006. Late last week, Moulinsart, (the firm controlling the copyright of the late Herge, creator of Tintin) based in Brussells threatened to sue Leak over his use of Tintin.

Luckily for Leak, the recently introduced section 41A of the Copyright Act contains a fair dealing exception for the purposes of parody and satire. In light of this, most experts predicted that Moulinsart would not succeed if it decided to take action.

Moulinsart eventually conceded that Leak is free to portray Kevin Rudd as Tintin (yes, the Copyright Amendment Blob won this fight) but threatened to sue if he continued to make the images available for sale via The Australian website (but the war continues). Apparently Leak responded to Moulinstart's letter by saying "I'm not a lawyer, I'm a cartoonist. I poke fun at people for a living. I'm sure Herge would have approved" (source).

A representative for the firm claimed:
"We have no problem with him using Tintin as a parody in his cartoons in the newspaper but when he starts selling them to the public then it becomes more commercial than editorial and he is infringing copyright.... It is passing those cartoons off as something they are not, as something official. He is not permitted to make those sales so we want him to stop doing that and to compensate us for any past sales. Our job is to promote and protect Herge's work and we are very serious about this." ("The Bleak side of Tintin'", The Australian, June 4 2007)
Somehow, I think the many references to Australian industrial relations policy and John Howard might give away the fact that the cartoon isn't quite 'official'. After all, the real Tintin never actually came to Australia.


"Satire, with apologies to Herge", The Australian, June 1 2007
"The Bleak side of Tintin'", The Australian, June 4 2007
"Tintin lives on in Leak'toons" The Australian, June 4 2007

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