Late last week Justice Arnold in the UK High Court issued his judgment in Twentieth Century Fox v BT [2011] EWHC 1981 – ordering BT to block access to a website, Newzbin2 (www.newzbin.com), that was held in an earlier case to be infringing copyright on a large scale. Rick Shera and Lilian Edwards already have some interesting comments up, but I thought I’d add my 2c worth. (more…)

One of the problems with enforcing copyright in the digital environment is that there is a seemingly infinite amount of content online, free for the taking (if you don’t count broadband internet fees). As a result, it has often been difficult for content owners to convince everyone that downloading content that is easily available–but copyrighted–is illegal. This issue is nothing new.

So what is the cause of this problem, exactly? Is it too difficult to understand what copyright infringement is? Or do people just not care? I’ve always found the argument that Jessica Litman makes in her book, Digital Copyright (2001) (pp. 111-114), to be very convincing. Litman argues that many individuals ignore copyright laws simply because they don’t seem logical to them:

The current copyright statute has proved to be remarkably education-resistant. One part of the problem is that many people persist in believing that laws make sense. If someone claims that a law provides such and such, but such and such seems to make no sense, then perhaps that isn’t really the law, or wasn’t intended to be the way the law worked, or was the law at one time but not today, or is one of those laws…that is okay to ignore.

Litman notes that if enforcement is seen to be incomplete and uneven, people become less willing to apply for permission for what they currently receive without any such permission—or to pay for what they currently receive free. (more…)

At an IP Academics’ conference in early February, I remember Professor Di Nicol asking, rhetorically, ‘where has all the patent reform gone?’. Di pointed out that we’d had any number of ACIP Reports, ALRC Reports (like that on Gene Patenting), and IP Australia Discussion Papers, all with no actual legislation resulting.

No more, it seems.

No doubt many are already aware of the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Bill. An exposure draft for this Bill was released by IP Australia was released on 3 March, with comments due by Monday next week (4 April). The provisions of the Bill have been discussed at some length elsewhere, too, including some very interesting, thorough discussion of Schedule 1 on the Patentology blog.

I have a few thoughts though, on things that haven’t been discussed much. (more…)

The TPPA – for which the US IP proposals were leaked last week – is earning a little more attention: Crikey had a good short article yesterday by Bernard Keane (subscriber only, free trial), Rick Shera in NZ has been tweeting and has given an interview; Techdirt has an article; Michael Geist has offered up a few views; KEI has an overview. update: Rick Shera has the NZ take here.

For New Zealanders, this draft is all bad news – NZ is not yet subject to a US FTA so it has, for them, all the implications AUSFTA had for Australia back in 2004 (for a detailed look, see my article with Robert Burrell, available here).

For Australians, the million dollar question is – how much of this is new for us? The answer – there’s more than you might think. Again. I’ve not had time yet to do the really detailed view, but here’s the quick list of things to pay attention to as being AUSFTA-plus: (more…)

The text of the US Proposals for the IP Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement have been leaked, and KEI has a copy on their website. It’s not a pretty sight: at an admittedly very quick glance, it looks like the proposal is AUSFTA-plus: that is, they’ve got even more creative in the 7 years since the AUSFTA. Sigh. Here we go again, only this time, we don’t have Europe in the room to stand against all the stuff that’s inconsistent with the European acquis, as they did in the ACTA negotiations. Be afraid, be very afraid.

IP Australia has released the IP Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Bill for public consultation. It’s huge: it covers patentability standards, a patent research exception; enforcement; oppositions – you name it, it’s in there. Written submissions due by 14 April 2011. More thoughts to come…

By now, all the copyright nerds in the world know the headlines: the Full Federal Court has handed down its decision in the iiNet case; that the appeal was dismissed in a 2:1 decision (Emmett and Nicholas JJ; Jagot J dissenting). Most people also will know that the reasoning is very, very different from the Trial Judge’s decision, and certainly contemplates, in a way that the Trial Judge didn’t, that in different factual circumstances an ISP could be liable for authorising infringement by its BitTorrenting users. The various major law firms have issued their summaries, I refer you there for an overview. Assoc Prof David Brennan from Melbourne Uni has expressed his succinct, and compelling view.

The decision is really long: it half looks like all three judges wrote as if theirs was to be the main decision (with others concurring or dissenting more briefly). A close reading reveals why. Although it is fair to say that the majority judges reach broadly the same conclusion on broadly similar grounds (namely, that the AFACT notices did not contain enough information to require action on the part of iiNet), they conceptualise the facts quite differently, and demonstrate important differences of approach. My early thoughts below the fold. This one’s for people generally familiar with the case and Australian copyright law though – beginners need to start, at least, with the law firm case notes.

I noted the other day that the Attorney-General had set out the upcoming copyright reform agenda.

And then an email alert crossed my desk – an actual copyright reform, in a dedicated Bill. Australia is to get a new copyright exception! Specifically, we are to get new s 44BA, for ‘acts done in relation to certain medicine’. It’s basically an exception to allow generic medicines producers to use the officially approved “Product Information Document” originally submitted when new drugs are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. The background to this amendment, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, is apparently this case, in which an originator pharmaceutical company got an interlocutory injunction, partly on the basis of an argument that copyright in the approved product information document would be infringed by the competitor’s use of the approved PI for its generic medicine.

This strikes me as perhaps one of the clearest arguments I’ve seen in a while for a fair use exception or other flexible exception in Australia. The very idea that someone has had to draft, and now the legislature has to pass, legislation to add this specific exception in is a clear indication that there just isn’t enough flexibility in the legislation. Is it just me?

Today, at a (invitation only) conference in Sydney, Australia’s Attorney-General Robert McClelland announced Australia’s copyright reform agenda for the next little while. I wasn’t there, but a transcript of the speech is here. In short, the agenda is this:

  1. On the issues in iinet, the AG believes that ‘an industry dialogue on this issue is the most productive way forward’. Apparently ‘The Government will look closely at the outcomes of any industry discussions’.
  2. On Australia’s Safe Harbours, the AG ‘to consult on proposals to adopt a broader definition of ‘carriage service provider’.’ to broaden the availability of these Safe Harbours. There will be a consultation paper on this soon.
  3. The AG’s Department will be considering the Copyright Advisory Group’s request for an additional exception to the anti-circumvention provisions, and will ‘invite submissions seeking views on whether any other new exceptions should be included, and I again invite those affected to take this opportunity to raise their issues.’ If you want to jailbreak your iphone, or anything else for that matter, now might be the time to think about it.
  4. The ALRC will likely get a reference towards the end of the year on copyright. The terms of reference will have to be written not to overlap with other work (like the convergence review) (good luck with that). At least, the ALRC is likely to look at exceptions in copyright in the context of the online environment and whether the correct balance exists’

Interesting times.

The Australian Digital Alliance will be holding a policy forum, titled “Righting the Copyright Balance”, on 4 March 2011 in Canberra. The full-day event looks to be a very interesting one, with sessions focusing on areas where Australian copyright law is thought to be most imbalanced between the rights of creators and users of copyright works.

Topics to be covered include safe harbours, the iiNet case, general exceptions, orphan works, and introducing flexibility to the Copyright Act.

LawFont’s own Kim Weatherall will provide a summary of the day’s discussion and propose an agenda for copyright reforms for the next few years.

If you are interested in attending, the deadline to RSVP is 25 February.

There was a recent news story about Coles changing the name of a product line of biscuits from “Creole Creams” as a response to criticisms that the name was racist.

The more interesting aspect to the story — not commented on anywhere that I could find — was why Coles might have chosen the name “Creole Creams”.

On the surface, it seems an odd choice. What does a term for persons of French/Spanish descent — and often used particularly nowadays to describe a people located around and in the Louisiana area — have to do with a biscuit (aka cookie)?

The short answer seemed to be me to be the first four letters of the word. The fragment “creo” looks very much like “oreo”. And, as the articles note, “Creole Creams” biscuits “resemble Oreo biscuits”.

A picture shows it even more clearly (noting the use of the lower case C):
Creole Creams

Maybe I’m off-base on this one, and I’m open to comments/correction, but I wonder whether the name was chosen to fit around that fragment, on the basis it would have subliminal effect?

The Minister for Innovation has decided to ignore the Productivity Commission’s recommendations, and not to change the Australian regulatory regime for books introduced by the previous Labor government. In other words, publishers get to keep their territorial exclusivity for books, and the government thinks we should all get e-Readers instead (seriously, that’s practically in the press release).

Gans says it all really – the government, having spent the first year or two of their governmental life commissioning independent reviews and reports of various kinds has shown that lobbying can overturn any recommendations that result. Look forward to an increase in the lobbying population in Canberra.

But what I find amusing/interesting is this. When the film industry lobbied for better protection in the context of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement negotiations, they lost. The book publishing industry has won. Which do you think has a brighter future in this increasingly audio-visual age…?

A few more news stories on ACTA including one from the ABC.

Perhaps more interesting (not for what it says, but how it says it) is DFAT’s latest update on the negotiations.

First, there’s this:

A variety of groups have shown their interest in getting more information on the substance of the negotiations and have requested that the draft text be disclosed. However, it is accepted practice during trade negotiations among sovereign states to not share negotiating texts with the public at large, particularly at earlier stages of the negotiation. This allows delegations to exchange views in confidence facilitating the negotiation and compromise that are necessary in order to reach agreement on complex issues. At this point in time, ACTA delegations are still discussing various proposals for the different elements that may ultimately be included in the agreement. A comprehensive set of proposals for the text of the agreement does not yet exist.

That might be convincing, first, if the US hadn’t shown text to a whole bunch of people. Why is it that only US-based companies or industries get a say in what gets put into the treaty? It would also be more comforting if (as might have been the case once upon a time in treaty-making practice) the parties were negotiating at a high level of abstraction. Back then, secrecy might have been more ok, because details could be worked at at a local, ie domestic, negotiation and discussion with affected parties. More recent experience indicates that in this area, DFAT are prepared to negotiate treaties that leave us little flexibility to balance domestic interests or to ensure that Australian interests are protected.

Or there’s this:

The ACTA initiative aims to establish international standards for enforcing intellectual property rights in order to fight more efficiently the growing problem of counterfeiting and piracy. In particular, the ACTA is intended to establish, among the signatories, agreed standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights that address today’s challenges by increasing international cooperation, strengthening the framework of practices that contribute to effective enforcement of intellectual property rights, and strengthening relevant enforcement measures. The intended focus is on counterfeiting and piracy activities that significantly affect commercial interests, rather than on the activities of ordinary citizens.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the way I read that, the treaty is going to be intentionally one-sided: lots of IP-protective stuff, and nothing to balance that out. Now, I’m all for ensuring governments have the freedom to take the steps they think necessary to protect civil liberties, presumption of innocence and all that kind of thing. But unless that’s stated in the text, can we be sure that at some point we won’t be faced with a claim that we’re breaching the treaty by softening its enforcement effects?

Finally, it says that “ACTA is not intended to interfere with a signatory’s ability to respect its citizens’ fundamental rights and civil liberties”. To the extent that it proposes to include material on ISPs, ISP safe harbours (and their limitations) and ‘graduated response’ (ie three strikes type stuff), it’s very hard to see how that’s true.

There have already been a few articles about the Larrikin Music Publishing Pty Ltd v EMI Songs Australia Pty Limited case.

The first thing to note is that the decision is just on a preliminary question. This is a procedural device used where it is likely to help save the court’s (and parties’) time and resources. In this case, the issue is just: for the purposes of this suit, does the applicant actually own the copyright it is seeking to enforce. If not, obviously, it would be possible to dismiss the case straight away, saving the expense of a trial. In this case, the preliminary question is simply a determination of a basic fact. (more…)

I was interested, the other day, to see this Online Opinion article by Nick Gruen (Club Troppo) on Australia’s pharmaceutical industry and the idea of manufacturing generics for export. The basic point of in Nick’s post is that investment in the manufacture of generic biologics in Australia is being prevented by Australian patent law and provisions introduced by the AUSFTA (or, at least, government’s interpretation of those provisions). In summary:

  1. Australia extends the term of patents for pharmaceuticals to compensate drug companies for delays in the marketing approval process;
  2. Patents last longer in Australia than elsewhere – at least partly because pharma companies apply for marketing approval later here than elsewhere, which means marketing approval is granted later, which means the drugs come off patent later.
  3. You can’t manufacture for export during the (extended) patent term, even for export (ie even where the drugs won’t be sold in Australia, and even if they’ll only be sold where the drug is off patent);
  4. By the time the drugs are off-patent in Australia, generic manufacturing based elsewhere in the world has garnered post-patent market share in many countries, putting a company that manufactures in Australia too far behind the eight-ball;
  5. Result: generics manufacture not possible in Australia meaning that high tech industry not possible here – even though result is only that the manufacture ends up elsewhere (like India) where there is no patent term extension.

Since I’m on record as saying that actual changes to IP law brought about by the AUSFTA were less dramatic than people said at the time, this warranted investigation. So I’ve investigated.

My view? Looking at the literal terms of AUSFTA, it looks like there are reasonably supportable ways through for Australia. AUSFTA is constraining (more constraining than TRIPS is), and that is a problem. But there’s always some room for interpretation. Which makes me wonder. Is this another potential case of Australia being the overly-conscientious ‘stick to full letter and spirit of the treaty law’, ‘don’t rock the boat’ goody two-shoes, adopting a conservative interpretation of treaty language that prevents it taking full advantage of the flexibilities available? More over the fold. (more…)

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