Tech


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…)

The Australian government’s Convergence Review Committee has released a Framing Paper and invited public submissions on what principles should guide the review over the next year.

The principles currently proposed span across broadcasting, telecommunications, and radiocommunication issues (although the bias is towards broadcasting content issues):

1. Australians should have access to a diversity of voices, views and information.
2. The communications and media market should be innovative and competitive, while still ensuring outcomes in the interest of the Australian public.
3. Australians should have access to Australian content that reflects and contributes to the development of national and cultural identity.
4. Australians should have access to news and information of relevance to their local community.
5. Communications and media services available to Australians should reflect community standards and the views and expectations of the Australian public.
6. Australians should have access to the broadest range of content across platforms and services as possible.
7. Service providers should provide the maximum transparency for consumers in how their service is delivered.
8. The government should seek to maximise the overall public benefit derived from the use of spectrum assigned for the delivery of media content and communications services.

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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…)

Professor Joseph Weiler has now written about the judgment in the criminal libel case brought against him in a French court. A decision was handed down by the Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris on 3 March 2011.

The details of the matter are outlined in an earlier post. In short, Professor Weiler was sued as editor of an online international law journal regarding a book review posted in the journal’s book review website. The book review was written by German academic Thomas Weigend, about a book written by Dr Karin Calvo-Goller. The review was not favorable.

The eventual result, after some correspondence between Professor Weiler and Dr. Calvo-Goller (please see my earlier post for details), was a criminal action for defamation brought in a French court against Professor Weiler. The trial took place in Paris on 20 January 2011.

According to Professor Weiler, the main arguments presented by the defense were:

1. The Court should not exercise jurisdiction, as the matter is too remote from France.
2. The Court should rule that the criminal complaint by Dr. Calvo-Goller amounted to an abuse of process.

The Court upheld both arguments. Regarding the jurisdictional issue, the Court appears to have ruled that the complainant had not sufficiently proved that the review in question was actually viewed in France during the period in which a criminal complaint needed to be filed.

Regarding the abuse of process issue, the Court noted that Dr. Calvo-Goller admitted to “forum shopping”. The Court noted that the choice of the French legal system was “artificial”, and was done because bringing the case in France would: be of lowest cost to her; give her the best chance of success on its merits, due to the nature of French law; and had the greatest potential to result in “both opprobrium and significant costs to the accused” (from an unofficial translation from the judgment).

Further, the Court noted that the review was not defamatory and that the complaint was brought in bad faith, particularly given her identity as a lawyer and someone who studied (and is thus familiar with) French law.

The Court awarded Professor Weiler 8,000 Euros in damages (approximately US$11,000). The damages will be donated to a charitable cause.

The full judgment in French and an English translation will be published on the journal’s blog in the next few days.

Update (4 March 2011): The Chronicle of Higher Education has published an article on the judgment, which includes a link to the judgment (in French), a copy of which was provided to The Chronicle by Professor Weiler.

Professor Joseph Weiler has won the defamation action brought against him in a French court, which I discussed last month here.

So far I have not been able to find any more details about the ruling, but once I do will write a longer post.

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.
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The final terms of reference for the upcoming Convergence Review to be conducted by the Australian government have been announced, following on the draft terms of reference provided for public comment in December.

At the Australian Broadcasting Summit this morning, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Ditital Economy, noted that the final terms of reference have been released. The focus of this review appears to be how best to regulate content that are accessible across a number of delivery platforms (television, computers, and mobile/telecommunications devices), rather than via a single means as in the past.

The terms of reference, which are now posted on the Department’s website, include:

–ensuring that the policy framework for media content and communications services is appropriate, and advising on ways of achieving it and on the potential impact of reform options on industry, consumers, and the community;
–looking at all relevant legislation and regulations implicated by the terms of reference (including, it appears, those outside of the Minister’s portfolio);
–considering both regulatory and non-regulatory measures to achieve the new framework;
–taking into account a number of issues when developing the new framework, including ensuring an innovative and effective media industry, the continued production and distribution of Australian content, developing appropriate ways to treat content that crosses international borders, and considering the appropriate ways in which radiocommunications spectrum is allocated.

Senator Conroy also remarked at the conference that the review committee will include Malcolm Long, who until recently was a member of the Australian Communications & Media Authority. Now an independent consultant, Long was also past Director of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, and Managing Director of national broadcaster SBS, among other senior roles in the Australian media industry.

Update: The Department has announced that Glen Boreham, formerly Managing Director of IBM Australia, will be chairing the review committee. The third and final member of the committee will be announced shortly.

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.

What is the line between academic criticism of a work and defamatory statements about the author? A French court is currently considering this issue.

In 2007, a book review website, www.globallawbooks.org, published a review of a book by Dr. Karin N. Calvo-Goller about the International Crimimal Court. The review, written by Professor Thomas Weigend, then Director of the Cologne Institute of Foreign and International Criminal Law and Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Cologne, was not particularly favorable. Professor Weigend’s criticism included:

…in the main part of her book [the author] simply restates the contents of relevant parts of the ICC Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence…

…this exercise in rehashing the existing legal set-up is particularly unproductive since a large part of the volume consists in a reprint of the ICC Statute and its Rules of Procedure and Evidence…

…analytical nuggets are all too rare…

…[the author's] conceptual grasp of the “inquisitorial” systems seems insufficient for a critical analysis that might go beneath the surface…

However, the review clearly states that the fault is as much with the editor as with the author of the book:

Karin Calvo-Goller has undoubtedly invested much time and effort into this book, which – but for regrettably sloppy editing – might well serve as a first systematic introduction to the procedural issues confronting the ICC.

The review is certainly not at all favourable. But neither is it a personal attack on the author.

On the other side of the matter from the author is the editor of the journal in question, Professor Joseph Weiler. Professor Weiler is no recent entrant to the academic scene. He is a well-known and respected scholar, currently University Professor at New York University, as well as the Joseph Straus Professor of Law and European Union Jean Monnet Chair at NYU School of Law. He was previously a professor at Harvard Law School and the University of Michigan Law School, and has published widely–as well as having extensive experience as an editor of academic works. His full qualifications and experience, as both an academic and legal consultant, are too numerous to summarise here.

So how did Dr. Calvo-Goller respond to the poor review? First, she asked Professor Weiler, as editor, to remove the review from the journal’s website. She was unsuccessful in doing so, even after asking a second time. All of the details are set out here. A few months later, Professor Weiler was asked to appear before a magistrate in France to respond to charges of criminal defamation brought by Dr. Calvo-Goller.

A description of the hearings and how the suit came about, as told by Professor Weiler, is available here.

The trial has now taken place, and a verdict is expected on 3 March 2011.

I should disclose that I am a former student of Professor Weiler. But the motivation behind the suit does not seem right to me. Does claiming defamation in the form of an unfavourable book review strike anyone as discouraging free expression and communication? At the very least, it seems to be an inappropriate use of the legal process. Bad reviews of one’s work, while upsetting and sometimes damaging, also appear to be a fact of academic life.

At the very least, as the New York Times has noted, damage to Dr. Calvo-Goller’s reputation may not only be achived by the poor review, but by the criminal complaint itself.

Only hours before major planned protests on Friday morning (28 January), the Egyptian government has shut down virtually all Internet access going in and out of Egypt, as well as SMS and Blackberry access. It seems that access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter may have taken place as early as Tuesday.

In two cities, Suez (north of Cairo) and the northern Sinai area of Sheik Zuweid, mounting protests have been calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. It has already been reported that social networking websites, particularly Facebook, have been used to build support and encourage participants in rallies this week–including large ones planned for Friday morning.

By Friday morning local time, reports confirmed that Internet traffic in and out of the country had slowed to a trickle. Renesys, a specialist in analysing Internet routing data (and a self-described “authority in global Internet intelligence”) has further confirmed that very early Friday local time, virtually all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet’s global routing table were simply withdrawn,

leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.

Renesys observed that oddly, Internet infrastructure company Noor Group was unaffected by the shutdown, with inbound Internet traffic via Telecom Italia arriving as usual. It also noted that the Egyptian Stock Exchange was still online at a Noor address. Their analysis revealed that the Exchange is normally reachable at four different IP addresses:

Internet transit path diversity is a sign of good planning by the Stock Exchange IT staff, and it appears to have paid off in this case. Did the Egyptian government leave Noor standing so that the markets could open next week?

It appears that Internet traffic solely within Egypt has remained unaffected. Some reports have also said that savvy users have found ways around the Internet blocks, using proxy servers and other methods.

Update, 29 January:

Further reports of the situation in Egypt have been made, with The New York Times suggesting why the almost complete removal of the country of over 80 million people from the Internet was possible at all. Not only was the Egyptian government instrumental in encouraging the spread of the Internet throughout the country, but its relatively liberal nature gave people little reason to suspect that the Internet could or would be shut down. As a result, the handful of Internet service providers in Egypt were not ready with a workaround. Ironically, it seems, some of the people who were expressing their frustrations with the government online only may now be joining others in the continuing demonstrations.

The draft Terms of Reference for the Government’s review of the laws relating to the converged media and communications industry have been published.

Part of a FAQ on the website of the Department for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, which is conducting the review, notes that:

* ‘Convergence’ describes the trend whereby devices (such as televisions, mobile phones and computers) and platforms (such as broadcast, telecommunications and broadband) that once had distinct functions may now support many different services and applications.
* You can now watch a TV show on your television, your computer or your phone. You can also make a phone call from your laptop or your email account. These examples illustrate the trend of convergence—that is, when the service experienced by the consumer is similar regardless of the network or device that delivers it.
* Convergence is driven by a range of evolving and new technologies including internet protocol networks, high-speed broadband and smart devices and phones.

The Department also notes that the incentive for the review, which will be conducted during 2011, is to ensure that Australia’s existing regulatory frameworks for broadcasting, telecommunications, and radiocommunications continue to operate appropriately in a media and communications sector that is becoming increasingly converged. Communications Minister Senator Conroy remarked in the media release announcing the review that the introduction of the National Broadband Network will accelerate the process of convergence. He also noted that the review will “look at all content delivery platforms including broadcast, mobile and fixed telecommunications and the internet”.

This review will consider possible changes to the three main acts governing the sector: the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Radiocommunications Act 1992, and the Telecommunications Act 1997.

The Department is accepting submissions on the draft Terms of Reference until Friday 28 January 2011.

It seems that digital television broadcasts in the United States are increasingly being received not via subscription television, but over the airwaves with the help of an old-style technology: rabbit ears.

Viewers who are either unwilling or unable to pay for increasingly expensive cable or satellite television are turning to free-to-air television, with the help of the new generation of rabbit-ear type antennas, which are designed to receive digital broadcasts.

The evidence of this move is not simply andectodal, but is supported by cable television companies and analysts, who have noted drops in pay television subscriptions. As further evidence, at least one cable provider (Time Warner Cable) started offering in November a cut-price package with a smaller range of channels.

Interestingly, it seems that consumers choosing free-to-air over subscription television services are supplementing their viewing with specific programs from cable television operators downloaded over the Internet, including from iTunes.

In a market saturated by subscription television options, is the move back to free-to-air a sign that cable television is simply too expensive these days, or that free-to-air plus selectively purchasing your favorite cable shows on iTunes is both more economical and more enjoyable? Probably both–as well as being a function of the nature of digital television broadcasting itself. Whereas analog television signals become progressively unclear as you move further away from the source of the signal (leading to constant adjustment of those rabbit ears at the margins), digital television broadcasts are typically either received fully or not at all. So remedying poor reception is not such a strong reason to go to subscription television any more.

The article does not discuss the use of external antennas (masthead or otherwise) at all. I wonder if viewers able to do so are also investing in antennas on their roofs?

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.

more analysis later.
updated: judgment now available on AustLII.
Further update: commentary will have to wait until after my classes today. But please consider this an open thread for any discussion!
Further Further Update: Warwick Rothnie has some very interesting thoughts on the case here. He’s certainly right about one thing. There’s a heckuva lot of food for thought in these judgments.

Ever wanted a copy of the Australian Constitution when not at your desk? If so, you may be interested to hear that the full text of the Australian Constitution is now available for your iPhone (or iPod Touch). It’s a free application, available internationally through iTunes (please note that this link will work only if you have iTunes installed).

It may interest readers to know that our own Ben wrote the application and uploaded it to the Apple App Store.

Thanks, Ben!

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