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 (, 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.


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.

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.

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.

ZDNet has some interesting discussion of different ISPs’ policies.

As I noted yesterday, a legal action has been launched by some 34 applicants from the television and movie industry against Australian ISP iiNet, alleging that iiNet has authorised copyright infringement by failing to take (adequate) steps to prevent sharing and downloading of films and TV shows via protocols like BitTorrent. A kind little birdie has sent me a copy of the Statement of Claim, so I have a bit more info. It makes for some interesting reading.

There are a number of interesting questions at the heart of this potential case:

  1. What, exactly, are ISPs required to do when they become aware that users are potentially infringing copyright? Do they have to terminate people alleged by the movie industry to be ‘repeat infringers’?
  2. How much responsibility will Australian courts put on intermediaries for ‘doing something’ about copyright infringement? So far, Australian courts have been pretty ready to impose liability on people they thought were ‘profiting from copyright wrongdoing’ – Kazaa with its P2P network, or Cooper with his ‘mp3sforfree’ website and his ISP host. What about others whose nefarious or infringing purpose is not so obvious? What, in other words, of more ‘ordinary’ service providers?
  3. When the legislation requires that ISPs, in order to ‘gain absolution’ or immunity from damages, should ‘adopt and reasonably implement a policy that provides for termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the accounts of repeat infringers’ – what does that really mean? Is it sufficient to terminate only those found liable for infringement? Is the court allowed to determine whether the policy is real or sufficient?

Politically, there are some equally interesting questions. Will the Internet industry respond to the lawsuit by looking for a settlement deal that goes some way towards creating the kind of ‘notice and terminate’ system that copyright owners have been pressing for? Will the government’s past approach of protecting ISPs from liability in order to further the digital economy hold? Or, has the tide turned: are we now in a climate where the courts, like the government, decide to hold ISPs to a higher standard, just as the government is trying to get ISPs to engage more actively in filtering adult content? And is this all just an attempt to promote a certain filter that purports to filter both porn and copyright infringement…?

More thoughts on the law side of things over the fold. (more…)

We’ve been expecting this might happen for a while. Now it has. From the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft media release:

“Today, seven leading film companies and their affiliates and licensees filed a legal action against iiNet, a major Australian internet service provider. The action was filed by Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Disney Enterprises, Inc. and the Seven Network, the Australian licensee of some of the infringed works. The companies seek a ruling that iiNet infringed copyright by failing to take reasonable steps, including enforcing its own terms and conditions, to prevent known unauthorised use of copies of the companies’ films and TV programs by iiNet’s customers via its network.”

In other words, it’s the argument that an ISP is authorising infringement of copyright. Without seeing the statement of claim, can’t say much more, except this: this is the next ‘upping of the ante’: designed, no doubt, to increase the pressure on ISPs and the Internet Industry Association to negotiate on the so-called ‘three strikes’ proposal for a system for terminating internet access of alleged copyright infringers.

Interesting times. (and yes, I’d love more information if anyone has any…).

On Monday Susanne noted that ACMA had released their internet content filtering report. Well, as you can imagine, there’s been some blogospheric and professional reaction:

  1. SAGE (the Sysadmin Guild of Australia) has slammed the artificiality of the methodology used (press release, media report);
  2. Somebodythinkofthechildren has produced a great summary set of links to other reactions, here (hat tip: Peter Black).

The Internet Industry Association, CHOICE (the Australian Consumers’ Association), the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and Australian Digital Alliance (ADA) have today expressed their concern about the possible contents of the ACTA negotiations that I’ve discussed a few times (most recently here). They have also agreed a set of six principles which, in their view, should guide the Australian approach to the negotiations:

  1. Transparency and accountability (all stakeholders should see and comment on text before it is concluded)
  2. Presumption of innocence (no enforcement, civil or criminal, without independent findings of infringement)
  3. Proportionality (all enforcement measures to be proportionate to the seriousness of any infringement)
  4. Consideration of impact on other treaties and laws (no doubling up or inconsistency with Australia’s existing obligations)
  5. Avoiding the prescription of surveillance technologies for IP enforcement
  6. Safeguards against liability for intermediaries (such as educational
    institutions, libraries and Internet Service Providers)

More detail in the principles document, which can be downloaded from the IIA or ADA.

Press releases:

  1. IIA
  2. Australian Digital Alliance

Note: I am a member of the board of the ADA.

More detail has now emerged on ‘three-strikes’ developments in the UK. ‘Three strikes’ refers to proposals currently doing the rounds – heavily pushed by various IP rights-owning organisations – to have ISPs monitor online copyright infringement (particularly P2P), warn users, and, if infringement persists, impose sanctions such as termination of service. The French have been drafting up such a scheme, it’s being pushed elsewhere (including here in Australia) and yesterday there were two significant developments in the UK:

  1. The UK government announced a voluntary ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ between six UK ISPs and BPI (music industry body) and the Motion Picture Association; and
  2. The UK Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform launched a consultation on ‘legislative options to address illicit Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File-Sharing.

There is already some online commentary: see Pangloss and the Open Rights Group [update: IAM Blog also has some commentary, as does IP Watch]. Some thoughts of my own over the fold. (more…)

The Times today is reporting that ‘[p]arents whose children download music and films illegally will be blacklisted and have their internet access curbed under government reforms to fight online piracy’. According to the report:

The measures, the first of their kind in the world, will be announced today by Baroness Vadera, who brokered the deal between internet service providers and Ofcom, the telecoms body…Britain’s six biggest service providers – BT, Virgin Media, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse – have signed up to the scheme. In return, the Government has abandoned a controversial proposal to disconnect broadband services for users who had been caught out three times.

The scheme will, apparently, involve:

  1. warning letters
  2. sanctions – including “traffic management”, meaning a sudden curtailment of their internet speeds, and “traffic filtering”, a careful monitoring of the media files downloaded to an account to check whether they have paid for them.

The scheme does not, apparently, involve the passing on of personal information – BPI and copyright holders will not be given names.

I’m not sure what to think about that – on the one hand, it does get rid of some of the nastier aspects of some of the proposals that have been floating around (like termination of internet service, blacklisting and people being cut off for 12 months). On the other hand, and subject to seeing the details, it does seem to have all the problems of identifying the culprit, collective punishment, transgression of the presumption of innocence, and the imposition of sanctions without court review (see my previous comments here). It also doesn’t appear to be compulsory (in that not all the ISPs have ‘signed up’). Will await details with interest.

On further thought, I’m less and less comfortable with this. Maybe it’s those words – ‘management’, and ‘filtering’. We are, in effect, talking about the ‘management’ – and curtailing – of a fundamentally important communications medium, for the benefit of a particular industry, and with all the dangers that follow of doing exactly the same thing for other industries and interests. All to be done, it would appear, outside any finding by an independent, disinterested tribunal or court that there has in fact been mass infringement of a kind that would justify such a sanction. Yeah, my gut reaction is I don’t like it. In the end, there are important principles at stake here and they appear to be negotiated away by this deal. And I don’t think this is an end to it. But that’s just my view.

The 2020 Submissions are online – over 8,000 of them. And I’m impressed: the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft have put a submission in, and there are no prizes for guessing their favourite big picture ideas for making Australia a great place:

We encourage the 2020 Summit to commit to the following measures: – acknowledge the threat posed to creative works in the digital age; – provide for effective, adequately resourced enforcement of copyright laws against copyright crimes; – educate the public about the consequences of copyright theft and inappropriate consumer behaviour – to respect copyright no matter what the ‘capacity’ of the digital device; – regulate ISPs to ensure they respect both the copyright content on, and the terms and conditions of their networks; ensure ISPs work with copyright owners to educate consumers, respond to illegal activities and prevent illegal distribution of copyright content on their networks.

And here’s me thinking the summit was supposed to be a place for generating new and interesting ideas…

Update: oh, look, MIPI too (hat tip: Matthew Rimmer). And look – same ‘idea’:

To address these issues, the Australian music industry, supported by a range of other content owners are proposing a “notice and disconnection” or 3 strikes and out system for persistent illegal file sharers. In short, the proposal seeks to deter IP theft by establishing a streamlined industry mechanism where the IP addresses of users involved in significant copyright infringements form the basis of a graduated process of warning notices, suspension and ultimately disconnection by Australian ISPs. Of course, disconnection will only occur as a last resort.

Ah yes. The three-strikes policy. Just what Australia needs to power into the next few decades. What a wonderful ‘big idea’. Won’t that just empower us all, and make that broad technology work for us.

Next Page »