The ‘war on terror’ has created the conditions for a new era of content regulation in the form of censorship of film and literature, broadcasting content standards and restrictions on the media in respect of national security matters. This week David Marr commented on the Attorney-General’s recent daubing (sorry I am sticking with the “unifinished canvas” metaphor) – the Material that Advocates Terrorism Discussion Paper released in May 2007 and the upcoming meeting with the States in Hobart at the end of this week. The Discussion Paper attracted many submissions from a diverse group of interested parties. See the submissions. The comments of Maureen Shelley from the Office of Film and Literature Classification Board echo the sentiments in many of the submissions made to the Attorney-General on the terrorism materials paper – that the new regulatory framework is “a significant departure from current practice”. The thrust of many of the submissions and the gist of Marr’s piece is that the changes sought by the A-G will have far reaching, potentially absurd, possibly discriminatory, unintended negative effects on the creation of and access to a broad range of films and literature which “might” fall within the new classification category. Led Zepplin comes to mind “oohh…it makes me wonder”…

Following on from Kim’s last post, if there was ever a time when national security and anti- terrorism legislation wasn’t a tech-law issue, that time has passed. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2007 is currently before a Senate Committee. There are 26 submissions . The industry will have to get its head around the new framework. National Security is now a tech law issue and I think it is going to get complicated.

Google has a new public policy blog, and in an interesting post, Andrew McLaughlin (their Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs) notes a story now circulating – that Google has been having

fairly quiet discussions …with various parts of the U.S. government, including the Departments of State and Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and various House and Senate committees.

in which Google has been making the case that ‘For Google, it is fair to say that censorship constitutes the single greatest trade barrier we currently face’, and that:

Just as the U.S. government has, in decades past, utilized its trade negotiation powers to advance the interests of other U.S. industries, we would like to see the federal government take to heart the interests of the information industries and treat the elimination of unwarranted censorship as a central objective of our bilateral and multilateral trade agendas in the years to come.

This has of course elicited some of the expected critiques – ‘how can Google say this when it actively collaborates with censorship in foreign countries’. Personally, I think that’s a pointless and ill-considered criticism – Google might well be censoring now – because, oh, it has to under the laws of the countries where it operates. That doesn’t prevent it actively trying to break down the censorship rules so it can stop complying with them.

I think there’s more serious criticisms that need to be borne in mind by Google when it makes this argument about injecting its concerns into bilateral trade negotiations. As someone who is based in Australia – a country that has had a bilateral trade negotiation with the US – I find the idea of the US injecting even more policy issues outside immediate trade issues into its FTAs a bit offensive. I know, from the Australian experience, what this means. And that is, that good as the intention might be, it is likely to become seriously perverted by the USTR and trade negotiation process. I hope (in the spirit of constructive criticism) that Google gives serious thought to whether this can work as it might hope, even in the most hospitable environment. (more…)

And another thing, about the November government draft of a new law for internet censorship (see my previous comments here and Pete Black’s comments here).

One thing that is fundamentally wrong with the government approach is the ‘cover everything, create specific exemptions’ approach. The government proceeds by creating a default position that everyone doing anything online (even vaguely related to commercial life) is covered, and then creates a long list of exemptions so that certain kinds of sites are free from regulation.

Three serious problems with this approach:

  1. The obvious problem: new kinds of sites are automatically censored. Since we don’t know what might happen online next, why make the default regulation? Why not single out the specific things you want to cover?
  2. The ‘bob each way’ approach: for most exempt categories, the definition states that the site must fit the definition AND ‘comply with other requirements in the regulations’. This would enable the government at any time to impose additional requirements on, say, user-generated sites or search engines – by regulations, which can only be DISALLOWED, not amended, by Parliament. Ick.
  3. Lawyers’ paradise. I foresee many arguments by people saying they fit within categories. That’s what always happens when you have a specific list. Again, ick.

Oh, and here’s a question. do you think massive multiplayer online games are covered by this regime?

Ah, censorship. What is it about censorship that brings out the silliness in legislators? Why is it that the idea of censoring the Internet gets people so excited they forget to work out whether the laws are at all sensible?

Crikey has today leaked a November draft proposed Australian Internet censorship law: the Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill 2006. I’ve had a look. It’s unbelievable.

Crikey report that the bill has been redrafted. It had better be. Better still would be to forget it altogether. Because this draft doesn’t pass the laugh test. Really. It is inconsistent with fundamental values like freedom of speech and freedom of information; it is broad, draconian, and wouldn’t work, it is completely out of step with the way the Internet works (it seems to require pre-emptive monitoring of content by hosts before it even goes online). I think I’m back in the year 2000 – the last time this same government tried to write an Internet censorship law. More on why this draft is so bad over the fold. [update: Pete Black has also commented, along very similar lines to me, here]

Well, the final report of the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property has been released. The 140+ page report can be downloaded from here.

This is a big deal for the UK – a wholesale review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole UK IP system – albeit it has been easy to ignore the goings on, while we struggle locally with what is now, officially, the Australian Copyright Amendment Act 2006 (Cth). Below, a brief background, some links to the UK commentary, and some thoughts on how the recommendations stack up against/compare to what we’ve seen in the just-completed round of Australian copyright and other IP amendments. (more…)

The ACCC (Australia’s consumer and competition watchdog) has released a draft guide to copyright licensing and collecting societies. It is seeking comments by 31 January 2007 (at least, a timeline for comments in copyright that’s not utterly unreasonable!!!).

From the press release: (more…)

My colleagues at Melbourne, Sally Young and Joo-Cheong Tham, have published a new study, Political Finance in Australia: A Skewed and secret system.

From the Executive Summary:

‘This audit directly addresses the controversial role money plays in Australian politics by asking the question: how democratic is the way political parties are funded in Australia?

It identifies two central problems with the funding of Australian political parties: a lack of transparency, with secrecy a hallmark of private funding, political spending and the use of parliamentary entitlements and government resources; and the political inequality that is maintained and perpetuated by Australian political finance. The distribution of private funds favours the Coalition and ALP and so do election funding, parliamentary entitlements and state resources like government advertising. This is especially the case when these parties hold government. The broader picture then is one of institutional rules designed to protect the joint interests of the major parties by arming them with far greater war chests than minor parties and new competitors. While electoral competition exists, it is largely confined to the major parties,with players outside this cartel disabled by financial disadvantages.

To address these problems and other deficiencies, 35 recommendations are made in four areas: private funding, public funding, government advertising and political expenditure.
Important stuff indeed, for anyone who is at all interested in our system of government here in Australia.

Media regulation in Australia will be dramatically changed over the next year. Senator Helen Coonan announced the adoption of a new media framework on 13 July, including a substantial strengthening of media regulator ACMA‘s powers and the relaxation of cross-media ownership restrictions. (more…)

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the federal Government will soon announce that it will subsidise the purchase of internet porn filters. According to the report:

the plan will include subsidies for parents who buy pornography-filtering software for home computers and an injection of funding for NetAlert, the internet safety advisory body.

There is an interesting thought piece in The Australian today about how the Australian digital broadcasting industry will be regulated relatively lightly, compared to the current analog environment.

According to journalist Mark Day, Senator Coonan has defended the current high-regulation regime as necessary because of the scarcity of analog broadcasting spectrum. But digital broadcasting does not have the same spectrum limitations. Accordingly, once the transition to digital broadcasting is complete, much of the current regulatory regime will disappear (including the anti-sihponing list, multi-channeling, and high-definition quotas). (Similarly, Senator Coonan suggested that the current regime would become “outdated” in her call for submissions on the Government’s digital media conversion. ) Where significant regulation is likely to remain is with respect to some content, particularly when that content furthers pornography or terrorism.

I found this article to be particularly interesting because of its overarching argument — namely that markets (and not regulators) are best-placed to select successful digital technologies.

A few interesting developments on a number of fronts:

The Register has a story panning the trial judge’s decision in the Apple trade secrets vs blogging case. According to the story, “Judge Rushing cites Wikipedia as a source, a mistake which earns students an ‘F’ grade today. He talks about the need to disregard economics and sociology in favor of a ‘memetic marketplace’ – whatever that is – and allows himself some flights of technological rapture.”

ArsTechnica has an interview with the CEO of eMusic. You may not have heard of eMusic, but it is currently the number 2 seller of downloadable music, behind only Apple’s iTunes Music Store. And the interesting part: eMusic does not use DRM. (And its songs cost only about 25c each, from what I can see on its website). I wonder how Napster can complain about this one?

Finally, an interesting post claims that a newly-created lobby group for net neutrality is just a shill for telcos. And according to SourceWatch (run by the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy) the primary funder of the group is … AT&T.

At lightning speed, following on a 4 April announcement, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, has introduced Do Not Call Register legislation.

Unfortunately for small businesses, they are prohibited under the proposed legislation from joining the register. Only private individuals will be able to sign up to the Register, which will make it illegal for telemarketers to solicit them. There will be no charge for individuals wishing to be listed on the Register. Small businesses, including those run by individuals from their homes, will not be eligible. (more…)


Yochai Benkler has followed a trend set by such people as Larry Lessig and Michael Geist, and made his new book, The Wealth of Networks, available under a Creative Commons License. He’s gone further than Lessig or Geist, I think, and has put the ideas in the book – which are all about commons-based and cooperative production – to the test in the real world. It will be of interest to anyone who thinks the whole concept of the Commons, Creative Commons, and ‘social production’ are interesting. Comments on this method of publication, and the book itself, over the fold. (more…)

Is Internet filtering ever justified?

Australian Labor party leader Kim Beazley has been pushing for Internet filtering at the ISP level, to provide a “clean feed” for Australian families. The idea would be for ISPs to blacklist particular websites that are known to have pornographic content, so that children will not be exposed to objectionable content. (more…)

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