Copyright events are about as pleasant as medieval dentistry. Too many suits, too many lawyers, too many bad jokes, and rarely anything new gets said. Last night’s Online Copyright Infringement Forum was no exception. The theme of the evening was “Evidence? What evidence?” as this post will demonstrate.
The first thing I noticed was who was on the panel. There was just one content creator, writer/producer Peter Duncan, who remained disturbingly quiet throughout the whole event. The remaining six panelists were representatives of copyright holders (Village Roadshow and APRA/AMCOS), Internet service providers (Telstra and iiNet), broadcasters (Foxtel) and consumer advocates (Choice). As was said later by an audience member later in the event: no one on the panel was representative of new business models (though Will Page of Spotify was in the audience and spoke very briefly).
The framers of the Constitution were mainly concerned with the financial and trade issues arising from Federation and how best to weight the interests of the small States against those of the more populous states in the new federal Parliament. In these and other areas they adapted provisions from the United States Constitution. However, they did not include a Bill of Rights.
— Tony Blackshield and George Williams, Australian Constitutional Law and Theory (Federation Press, 5th Edition, 2010) 125.
Australia’s Constitution is distinguished among those of modern democracies in several ways. Most obviously, it is one of the few examples of a Westminster Parliament operating within a federal system, modelling its Lower House of Parliament on the British House of Commons and the Upper House on the American Senate.
The drafters of the Constitution made the amendment process so complicated that proposals to amend it are more likely to fail than to pass. The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (Imp) has been modified only eight times since it came into force in 1901. As a result, they also managed to preserve two great traditions of the British Empire: handshakes and racism.
Australia’s treaty-making process completely bypassed the Commonwealth Parliament until the 1960s, when Prime Minister Menzies committed to tabling in both Houses of Parliament treaties that were signed but not yet ratified. Reforms in the 1990s attempted to involve Parliament more, but it has for the most part retained its lame duck status and Australia continues to suffer a democratic deficit.
Negotiating, entering into and ratifying treaties is the prerogative of the Australian Government. The signature of the Foreign Affairs or Trade Minister is a gesture that the Australian Government intends to commit Australia to obligations under international law. When the Government ratifies or accedes to an agreement, it becomes binding on Australia, confirming that Australia will comply with those obligations.
The counting for this year’s federal election is well under way, and although the results aren’t known yet, Pirate Party Australia did phenomenally well in its first federal election. Currently the polls indicate over 29,000 primary votes nationally (0.31% of the vote with 67% counted), and I predict we will finish at about 50,000 votes total.
Pirate Party Australia competed in four of six Australia states (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania) fielding two candidates for the Senate in each. On a shoestring budget, we’ve done incredibly well in my opinion for a first election. For those wanting an explanation of Australia’s political system, I’ve included a summary at the end of this post.
I think the best thing to come out of this for Pirate Party Australia was that we proved founding a party on democracy and transparency works. You can have an open party where decisions are made through debate and consensus-building, where you don’t get trapped in vote-hungry deals and instead stick to your principles. I am confident we are in the perfect position to contest the next federal election and many elections to come.
I believe I am right. For the time being at least, I believe that what I stand for — intellectual property reform, privacy, transparency, civil liberties – is worth standing for. I am fully prepared to accept that I might actually be wrong about some of it. Maybe copyright is just fine as it is, maybe law enforcement agencies do need blanket data retention, and maybe government does need to keep secrets. But, from available evidence, I don’t think I am wrong.
When I look at the other side of these debates, at various industry and law enforcement groups, I see a lot of rhetoric, sensationalism, hyperbole and manipulation. A very simplistic example is the slogan “home taping is killing music,” circulated by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in the 1980s. This is very easily ridiculed with the argument that music has survived pretty healthily over the past million or so years without copyright.
However, it is quite easy to fall into the same trap of using those tactics, perhaps unknowingly, yourself. Mike Masnick’s “The Sky’s the Limit” report, for example, has been criticised, and quite frankly for good reason. I wouldn’t trust a report sponsored by an industry organisation whose members would directly benefit from a reduction in copyright regulations to be unbiased. It is for such reasons that I have pushed for strict guidelines on what material should be used to support Pirate Party Australia’s policies.
But what has all this got to do with rights?
When I joined Pirate Party Australia, I heard about Pirate Parties International (PPI), the umbrella organisation that many Pirate Parties are members of. I was highly interested in its goal of promoting co-operation between Pirate Parties, and initially fully supportive of the organisation.
Over the past twelve months, my view of PPI has gone from being one of enthusiastic support, to one of weariness, and now it has reached total opposition. In this article I will be explaining why I now hold that view. Many Pirates I am in regular contact with know of my disappointment with PPI, and some of the reasons. I felt it was time to compile those reasons into a statement which can be used to support movements within Pirate Party Australia to withdraw from PPI.
Two days ago, the Republican Study Committee published a surprising policy brief titled “Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it“. I’ve uploaded a copy here, as others have done on their sites, to make sure it stays available, as it has already been pulled from the RSC website. I’m not going to speculate, as Techdirt have, on the reasons behind the brief disappearing, but I thought it was worth writing something about the contents.
Very rarely do I agree with the Republicans, so I was quite surprised to read this document. Of course, I’m biased against modern copyright law, but even copyright holders who want to maintain the current level of protectionism (and go beyond) must acknowledge the accuracy of the brief.
By chance I stumbled across this rather amusing critique of submissions on technological protection measure exceptions by copyright warriors, AFACT. The submissions they critique are from a range of organisations: the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee, the Copyright Advisory Group, Copyright in Cultural Institutions, Universities Australia, and Pirate Party Australia (naturally). All submissions can be found here.
The content of Pirate Party Australia’s submission contained arguments in favour of clear exceptions to allow legitimate customers to back up their content, to allow them to format shift across various devices, and to exercise fair dealing rights (similar to fair use in other jurisdictions).
So, what’s so funny? Well, first of all, this rather lovely appraisal of our organisation (derp emphasis added):
Just over month ago, Pirate Party Australia started their National Congress. I mentioned I was going to do a reflection on it in my last post, and finally I’ve managed to find some time to do so.
The National Congress begins with a two-day conference where physical and online participants work on policy changes, socialise, hear presentations and candidate speeches. This year’s conference was in Melbourne, Victoria, and was attended by Pirates from six out of seven Australian states and territories. Motions are voted on at the conference as to whether they will pass to a full-party vote – this is a sort of “mass seconding” – and amended in a similar way.
The first comment I’d like to make is that there were a heck of a lot of things to get through. Last Congress was quite informal in comparison. There were around 30 motions to get through, four presentations and elections for nine positions.
Nevertheless, it was much more successful than the Pirate Parties International General Assembly Conference earlier this year.
There appears to be an assumption within the broader intellectual property industries that members of Pirate Parties are just whiny brats who “want everything for free.” They consider us uneducated idiots who have not really given any thought into what we advocate.
I find this odd.