Alex Steel, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales, specialising in criminal law (he made a submission to the Senate Committee too) has alerted me to this report (beware, big pdf) of the NSW Ombudsman, called On the Spot Justice? the Trial of Criminal Infringement Notices by NSW Police. It’s a report of a review done of a trial using Criminal Infringement Notices in several areas in NSW.  Maybe something similar should be done when the copyright system is introduced?The Report has this background:

Upon its commencement on 1 September 2002, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Penalty Notice Offences) Act 2002 amended the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 to permit police officers to issue penalty notices, known as Criminal Infringement Notices (CINs) for prescribed offences in 12 local area commands for a 12 month trial period.

The Penalty Notice Offences Act required the Ombudsman to keep under scrutiny the operation of the CIN scheme for the duration of the trial and to prepare a report for the Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Commissioner of Police.’

That is, a new scheme for infringement notices was being trialled, and an independent – let me repeat that again, independent – review was done simultaneously. For the Report, the Ombudsman did the following:

  • a review of police records where CINs were issued, and interviews and focus groups with police officers who have issued CINs;
  • an analysis of information provided by hte Infringement Porcessing Bureau and the State Dept Recovery Office about hte collection and enforcement of fines, and
  • consideration of submissions received in response to our discussion paper.

Hmmmm – what a good idea. If there is going to be an infringement notice scheme in copyright, perhaps its operation should be independently – let me repeat that, independently – reviewed in a similar way. Given the concerns raised (on both sides, mind you, copyright owners and users) about how the system will operate, surely we want to know who is issuing notices, how often, against whom, and how people are responding to that. Notably, the report includes consideration of victim’s perspectives (ie, copyright owners in our case).

May I humbly suggest (yes, I know, I’m not really all that humble, but in this case, let me try) that something similar is done with the copyright provisions? A review of how these provisions are working in practice would do much to allay concerns about the operation of these provisions – and help allay a perception, too, that only copyright owners’ views are being listened to on this issue.