Category Archives: Copyright

Of course you can’t make Lord of the Rings movies without decimating citizens’ rights!

I was considering purchasing the blu-rays of the Lord of the Rings movies. But seeing the nasty anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-citizen laws Warner Brothers managed to bully out of New Zealand to make the new ones there… not so keen any more.

How much taxpayer money can Warner Bros. demand from the government of New Zealand to keep production there (rather than, say, in Australia or the Czech Republic)? That answer turns out to be about $120 million, plus the revision of New Zealand’s labor laws to forbid collective bargaining among film-production contractors, plus the passage of three-strikes Internet-disconnection laws for online copyright infringement, plus enthusiastic and, it turns out, illegal cooperation in the shutdown of the pirate-friendly digital storage site Megaupload and the arrest of its owner, Kim Dotcom.

For keeping Warner Bros. happy, Prime Minister John Key, a former Merrill Lynch currency trader, got a replica magic Hobbit sword from U.S. President Barack Obama and a chance to hang New Zealand’s fortunes on becoming the tourist destination for Middle Earth enthusiasts. What could go wrong?

Would Peter Jackson really have abandoned NZ to make the films elsewhere if the NZ government hadn’t agreed to screw over their own citizens? I want to see him being asked that as he flies around the world being gently massaged by entertainment “journalists”.

ALP and Liberals bent on another destructive US copyright agreement

When the ALP and the Liberals are determined to sign us up to another liberty-destroying, overbearing US “copyright” regime (in which we adopt the harshest aspects of their ludicrous laws – see here for the most recent absurd example – but without their Constitutional protections), thank God that one party in the Parliament will stand against it:

“Not content with supporting the ill-fated Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which would endanger the legal status of generic medicines and was overwhelmingly rejected by the European Parliament, the Trade Minister is now pushing for an Agreement that offers no protection for copyright exceptions enshrined in Australian law.

“ACTA was an absolute dud, and the Government wanted to jump on board before the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry had even warmed up.

“Now, information on the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement revealed over the weekend show the US and Australia want to defeat a proposed clause protecting domestic intellectual property laws.

“New Zealand, with the support of Chile, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, proposed this clause to permit a signatory to ‘carry forward and appropriately extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions in its domestic laws’. Only the United States and our own government oppose this perfectly reasonable provision. Why is the Government promoting the erosion of our independence in this way?

“There are two inquiries currently underway into the future of Australian copyright laws in the digital age. Shackling our intellectual property laws to a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement dominated by the United States would render them virtually worthless. The Australian Greens urge the Government to back New Zealand’s proposed protection for independence and to reject any Agreement that puts the civil liberty and welfare of Australians at risk.”

That’s Senator Ludlum, and I’m bloody glad we have him there to make the point. If only we had a few more Greens MPs whose votes could stand against any legislation associated with such a “treaty”.

Australians rebel against the copyright companies

You know when you, as an exploitative corporate parisite, have lost the PR war? Not when you have to keep pretending the thing you’re complaining about is something it’s not (“piracy”, “theft”) in order to deceive gullible governments into doing your dirty work for you. Not when you find increasing numbers of your potential customers are so sick of being ripped off and prevented from viewing the content you happen to control that they are resorting to other means to obtain it.

It’s when not a single reader will come to your defence.

Here’s how stupid the content industry is. If people download a program as it’s broadcast so as not to have it spoiled online, but then buy the bluray the moment it’s released – the content industry thinks it should treat these customers as criminals who should be punished. Rather than customers who want to buy its products at a reasonable time at a reasonable price. It’s an industry granted a temporary monopoly by our elected representatives to distribute certain content and then it refuses to promptly or reasonably distribute it.

Spoiler warning for every single Australian.

In whose interests is that? Certainly not in the interests of the creative people who made the content in the first place. Or the community, whose interest in encouraging creative works that enrich us all is the whole reason the government-enforced temporary copyright monopoly was invented in the first place.

And the public, the broad mass of ordinary voters have, even with the national media doing everything in their power to push the dubious lines of the parasites, noticed. And are angry.

No wonder the copyright parasites have to lobby our governments in secret, and our governments have to bury the anti-consumer laws they’re passing on their behalf so that voters don’t realise until it’s too late.

Greg Ham’s death should be a reminder that we need to reform the broken parts of the Copyright Act

Reading about the death of Men At Work saxophonist/flautist Greg Ham last week, one aspect in particular made me rather angry:

Friend and local pharmacist David Nolte, who discovered his body, says Ham felt responsible for the copyright controversy.

“He was a very sensitive person. It really cut him apart,” he said.

“He did say ‘That’s all they’ll ever remember me by’. It gutted him really … I don’t want to say it destroyed him or anything, but it really did cut him up.”

The hideously unjust and destructive “Down Under” case, and its effect on a man who gave so much to the country, call out for legislative reform.

The fact that Australia has – through absurd provisions in the Copyright Act that turn a musical reference into some sort of plagiarism, rather than an entirely artistically legitimate fair use, and that keep an almost fifty year old nationally-significant song out of the public domain – treated a man who made such an important contribution to our musical life so horribly, deeply annoys me.

Why is the length of time before a work enters the public domain so obscenely long? The life of the author plus seventy years? I mean, yes, I know why – because the US copyright terms were corruptly extended due to the lobbying of the Disney company, and because John Howard gave us the nationally destructive Australia-US FTA locking in those absurd provisions. But why are the rest of us, through our politicians, so committed to holding back the creation of cultural language? To locking down artistic works so that subsequent artists can’t refer to them and can’t build on them?

Why is a brief musical reference in a song not “fair use”? Great writers have always referred to each other’s work all the time with quotes and paraphrases. It’s keeping our creative heritage alive. It’s enriching our cultural life. It’s not “plagiarism”. They’re not simply trying to flog off an earlier artist’s work – they’re honouring it and its importance in the culture.

Greg Ham was a creative artist, not a plagiarist. Someone who gave to this country and enriched it, not someone who deserved to be ground into the dirt by shameless copyright opportunists and the broken system that enables them. It infuriates me that he died thinking that he was going to be remembered as some kind of cheap rip-off thief, rather than the significant Australian musician he was.

The Australian Law Reform Commission is about to review the Copyright Act – it might be worth making a submission. Copyright terms need to be shorter, and fair use like Down Under protected. It’s too late for Ham – but let’s not do it to another artist.

Open Government

The Attorney-General’s department explains why, despite the existence of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the government’s feigned belief in “open government”, you mustn’t know with whom in the copyright industry it’s talking as it prepares more draconian anti-piracy laws to make up for the fact that the content industry keeps losing in court in its attempt to make everyone else pay to enforce its broken business model:

the Attorney-General’s Department stated in its response to Delimiter’s FoI request that it “does not hold” a list of the attendees who actually attended the meeting.

That’s really, really difficult to believe. What about the department’s notes on who said what at the meeting?

the department has redacted almost all of the information previously contained in the documents — including 14 pages of notes taken by a departmental staffer at the event and other four pages of notes taken by a senior staffer from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s department.

Which they had to do because:

“Disclosure of the documents while the negotiations are still in process, would, in my view, prejudice, hamper and impede those negotiations to an unacceptable degree,” wrote [Attorney-General’s Department senior legal officer] Purcell. That would, in my view, be contrary to the interests of good government — which would, in turn, be contrary to the public interest.”

It is “contrary to the public interest” for people who are NOT the government or one particular self-interested set of lobbyists to be involved in drafting legislation. Why should anyone but the content industry be involved before the government’s position has already been formulated? Why would it want to hear from other people and industries (such as ISPs and any internet-based business in Australia) who are affected by this sort of legislation? What’s it got to do with the ordinary members of the public whose freedoms these laws inevitably reduce, anyway?

There is nothing corrupt and sinister about this at all. Relax.

Why even a free market fundamentalist should oppose DRM

Cory Doctorow on how “Digital Rights Management” technology and supporting legislation stifle technological innovation:

The primary value of DRM to technology companies: because many countries’ laws prohibit breaking DRM even if you’re not doing anything illegal, DRM gives companies the right to sue competitors who make compatible products and services.

The law has always recognized that interoperability is good for competition, markets, and the public. From generic windshield-wiper blades and hubcaps to third-party hard-drives and keyboards and inkjet toner, and software like Pages and Keynote, the law recognizes that there is a legitimate reason to reverse-engineer a competitor’s products and make new products that replace, expand and augment them.

Companies don’t like this. It interferes with the “razor blade” business model of subsidizing one part of a product and charging high margins on some other part. It undermines efforts to corner markets and freeze out disruptive innovation. It lowers prices and forces you to spend more money on R&D to get the next product out because the profits have started to fall on the old products.

But these are not bugs, they’re features. High prices on inkjet cartridges and proprietary cables and other consumables and accessories hold us back from realizing the full utility of our property. Allowing carriers to lock handsets to prevent the introduction of VoIP and tethering software to preserve high tariffs is good for telco investors, but bad for those of us who buy their products, and it removes the incentive to improve voice-call quality to compete with VoIP. Artificially prolonging the profitability of last year’s invention means that this year’s invention doesn’t get made as quickly — or at all.

Fortunately for those who want to slow innovation and hold back humanity so that those holding patents on outdated technology can gouge a bit more money out of the rest of us, they’re the ones the politicians have been listening to. As long as ordinary people don’t realise how much we’re being dudded by this rent-seeking, market-distorting, anti-competitive, corrupt system, then the extra money the established parasites have to spend lobbying will, in the minds of decision-makers, vastly outweigh the votes of the many, many more people negatively affected by it.

The more you tighten your grip, copyright parasites, the more supporters will slip through your fingers

As Australians continue to be ripped off on digital content (Bernard Keane in yesterday’s Crikey exploring the ridiculous world of ebooks), it’s good to see that some of the former defenders of the copyright industry have now given up on it:

As I suggested in the comments to Keane’s piece, our government should:

  • Stop passing ever more obscene one-sided, ludicrously punitive, unbalanced, anti-public legislation like SOPA, PIPA or – the upcoming and even worse – ACTA.
  • Return copyright terms to some kind of sane length.
  • Stop enabling the exploiting of local consumers. If copyright owners respond to the generous grant by the public of a temporary monopoly (which is what copyright is) by trying to rip us off – then don’t enforce it. Make it a complete defence to a charge of “copyright infringement” if the item in question is not available lawfully in the consumer’s region at the same price as elsewhere.
  • And with region-coding rubbish in media players and consoles – make it clear that if a mod-chip or other circumvention device overcomes a region block that discriminates against local consumers, then it is lawful, even if it has the effect of undoing other anti-copying measures. Give the bastards an incentive to stop trying to gouge us.

The question is: does the Australian government represent Australian consumers or US conglomerates? Could we at least put some pressure on them so that they might consider doing the former?