Who’s Right When The Copy’s Left?

Another of the standout sessions at ACEC 2008 was that of Matthew Rimmer who presented a very engaging parallel keynote session looking at the the issue of copyright law. Matthew is is a member of the Copyright and Intellectual Property Advisory Group of the Australian Library and Information Association, and a director of the Australian Digital Alliance. Unfortunately Matthew covered a lot of territory in an all too short time so my summary taken partly “on the fly” during the session is missing a couple of points.

Taking us back in history, Matthew noted that the initial focus of copyright law was on the encouragement and promotion of learning. It was promulgated in order to provide a limited array of rights for a limited amount of time to provide protection for authors for a limited amount of time to promote wider public objectives and education. Copyright started as “An act for the encouragement of learning” though since then it has taken on a range of other guises. Over time the notion of copyright has become more and more removed from the original. In 1866 the first international agreement related to copyright, the Berne Convention was instituted in order to protect the works of authors across international borders.

Lately however the focus of copyright has been less on the author but become more the province of publishers, record companies, etc. Increasingly it has been these distribution organizations that are seeking to use copyright law as a sanction. Concomitantly, with the advent of World Trade Organisation agreements and other bilateral agreements, the sanctions that can be applied for copyright violation have become much more significant. There has also been a rationalisation of the works that fall under the purview of copyright such that even the White Pages Directory is now covered by Copyright Law. The Australia-US Free Trade Agreement has impacted significantly on Australian Copyright law leading to the inclusion in Australian copyright law of a range of new sanctions and extensions to coverage. One of the most notable of these is the extension of copyright from the previous coverage being the lifetime of the author plus 50 years to now the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. Matthew also quoted the Hew Raymond Griffiths case that lead to the extradition of Mr Griffiths who was accused of being a ring leader of an underground software piracy network.

Despite such agreements placing impositions on Australian Copyright Law, in an number of important areas there hasn’t necessarily been a corresponding rationalisation where Australian law is more restrictive than US law. One area cited by Matthew was that of Fair Use, (US) vs Fair dealing (Aust). Australian law is much more restrictive and needs to fit within strict set of criteria. We don’t have the same set of liberties as the US. Lately though there has been a push to open up the Australian criteria. Matthew also pointed out that Australia also has a range of rights that may be under threat including

  • right to have work attributed
  • rights re false attribution
  • moral right of integrity

He also pointed out that copyright law continues to evolve including the proposed Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement 2008 which is rumoured to include provision to search and seize iPods and laptops through to take action against ISP’s. Not surprisingly there has been a backlash for a reformation to copyright law interestingly most often under banner of access to knowledge.

Matthew pointed out that in particular copyright laws are ill adapted to learning in schools. The Smart Copying Website has a quick reference guide for copyright in schools as well as the most current up to date advice. The site should be the first point of call for all schools however I wonder how many schools actually know of the resource let alone access it.

If that were not enough, Matthew noted that the digital copyright laws written in 1990’s are already under stress as they don’t reflect the reality of Web 2.0. He cited the following instances and cases as examples of this including;

  • The notion of how to deal with orphan works where the copyright owner cannot located.
  • How to deal with Google Book Search is one of the latest cause celebre. Google Booksearch contend that far from causing book sales to fall that they instead promote a market for books because users are able to access greater range of text based extracts.
  • How to deal with Technological Protection Measures, aka digital locks, copy protection. In one case involving the Sony PlayStation the High Court judges had no knowledge of the playstation and how it worked and had to be introduced to how they work before they could rule on the case. In their final decision the judges sought to ensure a very clear concise definition of the paremeters of the lock rather than the more loose interpretation sought by Sony.

In closing Matthew spoke of the many organisations that are now seeking to address issues of access including;

Copyleft by Jonas B

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2 Responses to Who’s Right When The Copy’s Left?

  1. Pingback: The Minefield of Copyright | An Expat Educator in Asia

  2. truth says:

    Beautiful article of how the copyright law is no longer what it used to be and exactly who benefits from it and how. In the end all the efforts of copyrighting will go in vain, as i have personally seen a few legitimate websites with alot of free content using the “copyleft”.

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