The folks over at strangemaps have posted an interesting map of the USA, matching the gross domestic product (GDP) of each individual state with a country with a similarly-sized GDP.

Strangemaps rightly points out that the map presents a somewhat distorted picture; while the state/nation state GDP levels may be similar, the corresponding population levels are not. This means that similar GDP figures do not necessarily indicate similar levels of wealth per capita in the US states and countries compared, although it does rank the size of the economies of US states and the corresponding foreign countries.

The rest of strangemaps is worth a look if you have a moment–there are some very interesting maps there. One of my recent favourites is the Online Communities Map.

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]

Interesting story hitting the press today on the use of Australia’s notice-and-takedown provisions under the Copyright Regulations.

Volunteer-type hosting service had to take down this site (now on an overseas mirror), after getting a letter from the NSW Minerals Council, alleging infringement of their copyright in the material on this website. More detail on indymedia.

Apparently, despite the requirements under the Copyright Regulations to “insert sufficient information to enable the carriage service provider to identify the copyright material in respect of which the infringement is claimed”, the lawyer letter didn’t attempt to actually state what copyright existed in – telling the ISP to do the identification:

“Content in which our client owns copyright may be viewed on it’s website, We ask that you compare our client’s website to the offending websites referred to above. On comparison, you will see the copyright infringement issues that our client has with the abovementioned websites.”

I’m troubled by this, and not just because I’m pretty sure it is NOT the intention of the regulations that lawyers who write these notices outsource the identification of copyright material to the host or ISP. (“Look at the website”??? please).

I’m concerned because this isn’t one of those cases that notice-and-takedown was meant to be provided for: cases, basically, where someone has put up shamelessly infringing material online with no apparent social benefit. The notice here is aimed at some speech which is pretty clearly political, something which at least arguably would be protected under fair dealing defences of criticism and review and/or parody/satire. This is not why the Safe Harbours were put in there, and arguably, it’s an abuse of the process.

Maybe we need an Australian version of Chilling to track this kind of thing.

UPDATE: Rising Tide, the people behind the website, have issued a counter-notice. Their press release is here.

UPDATE 2: Pete Black has commented. Note also that if you’re a barrister looking for something to do with your time, RisingTide are looking for some pro bono assistance…

Various reactions to the linking is authorisation’ Cooper decision handed down yesterday by the Full Federal Court:

  1. I commented yesterday (summary? ‘troubling’. ‘Have we, or have we not just had a very extended debate about copyright law in Australia? Was not one of the memes in that debate the idea that copyright ought to ‘work’ in a digital environment? Are not search engines, and links, fundamental to the way the Internet and digital environment work? Did all this debate completely pass the members of the court by?’)
  2. Techdirt have commented (‘the idea that it’s the technology creator’s job to build in protections against infringement in how they design a tool is also extremely problematic in placing the burden on the technology makers. It’s a guaranteed recipe for slowing down innovation by putting in place both chilling effects against innovation and additional development costs’)
  3. Boing Boing comments here (‘If that precedent were adopted worldwide, there would be no Google, no Wikipedia, no internet as we know it’)
  4. Black comments here (‘I agree with Kim’)
  5. The Age has the story here.

As you can see, the tenor of this commentary is – ‘shock horror Australian law says linking is infringement; Google’s in trouble’.

Take a deep breath. It’s important to appreciate the limitations of this decision. (more…)

As I anticipated on Friday, and noted earlier today: the Full Federal Court judgment in the Cooper case has been handed down. This is a significant, appeal judgment on the scope of secondary liability in copyright law: that is, when can one person be responsible for the infringing activities of another?

In this case, the Full Federal Court had to consider whether a website, structured and designed both to provide links to infringing MP3 files, and to provide facilities for the easy, automatic upload of such links, could lead to liability for authorising infringement of copyright for the website designer (Cooper), and the hosting ISP (E-Talk) (the website itself, now down, can still be seen (though not used) via the Internet Archive Way Back Machine (the URL was To be completely clear, Cooper was not hosting infringing mp3s. But his website did provide easy access and a central point for placing links.

At first instance, Tamberlin J held both liable – leading to much commentary, particularly on the breadth of the Australian concept of authorisation. If you’re interested in where Australian law on secondary liability for copyright infringement lay prior to this judgment, and how it compares to US concepts, have a read of this article by copyright leading lights Sam Ricketson (australia) and Jane Ginsburg (US).

Summary: in this judgment, the Full Federal Court has pretty much affirmed the reasoning of the Trial Judge. Overall, I find the reasoning pretty troubling in this case: particularly the reasoning of Branson J, which seems to me to endorse a broader view of appropriate liability than the other judgment of Kenny J. I think the judgment shows three things:

  1. That Australian law is out on its own in terms of potential liability for authorisation of copyright infringement. The law is certainly broader – that is, the scope of activities that will potentially lead to liability is wider – than equivalent concepts in the UK (as illustrated in cases like the Amstrad case) or Canada (as illustrated by cases like CCH). And, as Ricketson and Ginsburg point out, it is broader, even, than US law post-Grokster. Anything that would be caught by post-Grokster inducement liability would also be caught by Australian authorisation liability – and then some.
  2. More broadly, the case illustrates that Australian copyright law is increasingly becoming a strange, independent beast. The judgments in this case are truly remarkable for their lack of reference to, or engagement with, recent overseas authority or legal developments. Just remarkable.
  3. Most remarkably to anyone outside that arcane society of the High Priests and Initiates of Copyright: linking to another website that carries an infringing file does carry some legal risk under the reasoning in this case.

Over the fold, I have some more detail. But let me give you a flavour of what I think. As I read the judgment, quite honestly, I was amazed by the absence of any explicit conscious engagement with the real world. To read this judgment – as I said, particularly the broader one of Branson J – you could be forgive for wondering how much the honourable members of the court actually use the Internet. It’s not way the law is described, it is the fact that the judgments can make comments about the potential liability of a website operator for copyright infringement for the most mundane acts – like, oh – linking to another website – without any acknowledgment that that might be an issue, or a problem, or an even slightly undesirable development in the law. (more…)

And in a completely UnAustralian but interesting note, it appears, from what’s being said on TechDirt, that USTR pressure will see AllofMP3 – the Russian site for cheap music – shut down.

The New York Times has prevented access from the UK to an article detailing intelligence on recent terrorism concerns in the UK. The article in question, “Details Emerge in British Terror Case” (published 27 August), contained details that may have run afoul of the requirement under UK law that prohibits the pre-trial publication of “prejudicial information” about defendants. The New York Times used technology designed to deliver targeted advertising to users to prevent anyone using a computer located in the UK from downloading the article. The article quotes Jonathan Zittrain (of the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute) in saying that the paper’s action is consistent with trends on the Internet to restrict information.

It is thought to be the first time that the paper has withheld access to an article to avoid contravening laws in the UK.

The New Yorker has published another interesting article on the old media-new media debate. The last such article that I posted on looked at Wikipedia versus traditional encyclopedias and research; this article (published in the 7 August print edition) is on traditional versus Internet journalism (also known as “citizen” journalism).

Although the whole article is worth a read, Lemann’s parting thought is pretty interesting on its own:

Journalism is not in a period of maximal self-confidence right now, and the Internet’s cheerleaders are practically laboratory specimens of maximal self-confidence. They have got the rhetorical upper hand; traditional journalists answering their challenges often sound either clueless or cowed and apologetic. As of now, though, there is not much relation between claims for the possibilities inherent in journalist-free journalism and what the people engaged in that pursuit are actually producing. As journalism moves to the Internet, the main project ought to be moving reporters there, not stripping them away.


Recently, there has been a considerable amount of attention given to this announcement by Piratpartiet (the Pirate Party of Sweden), which says it has:

launched a new Internet service that lets anybody send and receive files and information over the Internet without fear of being monitored or logged. In technical terms, such a network is called a “darknet”.

The promise seems to be that people can send or receive copyrighted files without breaching copyright.

On the technical side, this looks to be a neat piece of coding. However, on the legal side, sadly for the Piratpartiet, I don’t think it will do what they think, for two reasons. (more…)

For those of you in the United States that read The New Yorker, this is old news, but for those of you who do not, you might be interested to read a very interesting article in the 31 July issue on Wikipedia. The article, which is very well-written, has generated some interesting commentary at Freedom to Tinker on the difference between Wikipedia’s open, peer-reviewed model and The New Yorker‘s more traditional fact-checking approach (typical of high-quality print media).

I’d be interested to hear what readers think is more reliable — the Wikipedia approach or fact-checking? Both models certainly have their virtues and their weaknesses. (My own view: while some sources of information tend to be more reliable than others, any single person–or even a group of people–holds biases and can make mistakes.)

Warner Bros. has joined a number of other television broadcasters in providing some of its programming for sale on Apple’s iTunes. A number of networks, including Fox (owned by News Corp.), ABC (Walt Disney Co.), NBC (Universal), CBS, and MTV (Viacom Inc.), along with Warner Bros., together offer more than 150 television shows for US$1.99 per episode. The shows may be viewed on a computer or a video iPod. And what’s really interesting — it’s possible to subscribe to a current season of a television show (and not just repeats). (more…)

Australian reality television show Big Brother has sparked a debate on the regulation of Internet content. Earlier this month (see here and here), an alleged case of sexual assault caused two contestants to be taken off the reality television show. (See “2006 sexual assault controversy” on Wikipedia’s Big Brother entry for further details.) While the behaviour was not broadcast on television, it was shown live on the show’s Internet feed, provoking outrage from politicians, and causing Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan to issue media releases addressing the incident (2 July and 3 July).

I’m not going to weigh in on the appropriateness of content broadcast on reality shows or on the Internet, or the ethics of such shows generally, nor will I discuss whether certain conduct actually occurred on the Big Brother set. Plenty of that is being offered, from Opposition Senator Stephen Conroy (3 July and 5 July) to Germaine Greer. Instead, I’m going to consider why the content shown on the Big Brother website did not break any laws, and discuss the contemplated regulatory response. (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.

At an eBay convention in Las Vegas this week, the company announced that from Monday 19 June sellers of certain types of items will be able to add a “Skype Me” link allowing potential buyers to contact them through the VoIP service. This launch has been expected since eBay spent US$2.6 billion to purchase Skype.

The service will be available for 14 categories of (high-value) items, including real estate, cars and trucks, silver coins, and beds.

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