Phillip Ruddock last night on ABC PM program on the Copyright Amendment Bill:

‘If you’ve got schools and universities on the one hand saying it doesn’t go far enough and you’ve got copyright owners on the other hand saying it goes to far, we’ve probably got it about right. ‘

Um, no. It could be because the law is really bad, makes things more confusing, and helps no one at all.

And you know what? That could be the case with the Copyright Amendment Bill 2006. This is a law that:

  1. will make many businesses around Australia criminal infringers of copyright for the inadvertent acts of employees;
  2. includes multiple changes to the law that no one understands;
  3. creates format-shifting exceptions and time-shifting exceptions that are technologically redundant before they are introduced, so highly qualified they are unworkable and completely incomprehensible to the average human being; and
  4. makes things harder for libraries, cultural institutions and archives – even as we start to see the massive benefits of access to information online.

It is a law condemned as unworkable by some of the most successful, innovative companies in the world – Apple, Google, and anyone who is anyone in open source. It is a law that far from making things fairer for consumers, makes things harder and makes them more likely to be criminals. It is a law that, for the benefit of copyright owners and the convenience of the DPP, imposes strict liability almost across the board in criminal copyright law and thus imposes significant compliance requirements on all businesses in Australia that deal with copyright material. Um, that would be, oh, every business in Australia that uses computers or publishes anything at all in any form at all.

No, Minister, you have not got a balanced law. You have a law that makes things completely unworkable for everyone. And that’s why everyone is complaining.

This Bill is due to pass soon. I back up what the EFF have said. You should be writing to your Minister on this. This Bill should not pass.

Update: In comments to this post on Weatherall’s Law, Craig points out that Google and Apple are not altruistic – they don’t like the law because it makes their business model harder.

That is an absolutely fair comment.  I suppose I’d like to make 3 responses:

  1. Yes, everyone is advocating their own interests or biases, and the working through of all that – when it is reasonable, when it is not – is part of the democratic process.  However, it is worth noting that a law that makes things hard for Google and Apple makes things hard for other companies seeking to compete in the technology and software space.  I’m not of the view that we should advantage Google and Apple to the cost of copyright owners generally.  I’m also of the view though that a law that grants very absolute rights to copyright owners isn’t the right way to go.  In this, of course, I’m backed up by any number of reviews, including this recent one from the UK.
  2. A lot of the complaints about the law are along the lines of ‘we don’t understand what this means’.  That is the sign of a badly drafted and problematic law, not a balanced one;
  3. You should take time, too, to read some of the complaints carefully.  There is excess on all sides, there always is.   But really, some of those complaints are truly amazing.  Among the arguments are these ones criticised by Andrew Leigh.  Another amazing suggestion from one organisation was that we shouldn’t have a time-shifting (tape to watch later) exception unless it was conditioned on consumers first making inquiries as to whether they could download the show for a price from online.  That is, before you press record, you should have to work out whether you could buy the show.  Imagine explaining that to consumers.  It’s almost as good as the ‘no rewind condition‘ that was mooted back in May.  Another suggestion from CAL: that because publishers now sell individual articles from journals, a student photocopying a single article from a journal should no longer be deemed a fair dealing.  If the Attorney-General thinks rejecting these extreme proposals means that the law is balanced, I must with respect disagree.  And yes, I acknowledge that there are some pretty extreme suggestions on the other side of things too.  Libraries and Educational Institutions would love to pay less for things.  The bandying about of extreme suggestions on all sides is not a good thing.  As Jane Ginsburg has pointed out, what brings copyright into disrepute is greed – greed on all sides.  But it all just underlines the point – when you have all kinds of extreme suggestions, the fact that everyone complains doesn’t mean the balance is right.