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    Copyright laws rehashed

    Saturday, August 18, 2007

    Recent announcements by the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock concerning proposed changes to the Australian copyright laws might finally enable users of iPods to rip, copy and transfer music within the confounds of the Australian copyright laws. And about time. The speed of technological innovation in this country has long been 3 steps ahead of the regulatory framework in which it operates; one only has to look at the common act of recording television and other media onto videocassettes that has flown in the face of dysfunctional Australian copyright laws for decades.

    But the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) seems to have served as a catalyst for the Government to reassess the effectiveness and appropriateness of its longstanding technology-lagging copyright laws.

    The new copyright laws create tougher penalties for copyright infringers. It is also proposed that police will be empowered to issue on-the-spot fines to persons engaged in the pirating of material under copyright.

    There are also new rights available to end users. Some of the proposed new copyright laws might allow the following:

    • The ability to engage in time shifting – that is, to allow the recording of television and radio programs for subsequent viewing;
    • The ability to engage in format shifting – that is, to allow the copying of certain media between MP3 players and other hardware.

    Unfortunately, there are some complex conditions attached to the new copyright laws that appear to be difficult to regulate. For example, under the new copyright laws it will be permissible to invite a friend over to watch a recording but it will not be permissible to lend the recording to the friend for later viewing.

    Another curious condition is the fact that recording of television and radio programs for subsequent viewing will only be permissible such that the recorded material can be viewed once. This means that it will not be permissible under the copyright laws for two persons in the same household to watch a recorded television show at different times.

    Further, it will be illegal under the laws to upload media onto the internet. This means that computers connected via VPN, FTP or other internet protocols will not be able to be used to copy media under the format shifting provisions.

    While the new copyright laws may enable resellers to take advantage of new technologies previously hindered by archaic copyright laws, it seems that the curious conditions placed on the new exceptions may require a swag of digital rights management protocols to be properly managed. In the future, these digital rights would likely be manifested in the form of new software and hardware products.

    It should be noted that the new copyright laws have not yet been made effective and are only proposed at this stage. For the copyright laws to be brought into effect, a bill needs to be introduced into Parliament and passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate; and the law also needs to be assented to by the Governor-General. Resellers should stay tuned to establish the extent of the new copyright laws and how it will affect business.

    Disclaimer: This column is for general informational purposes only. It is not legal advice nor is it a substitute for legal advice. Readers should seek legal advice on their own particular circumstances. Alan Arnott is a technology & telecommunications lawyer with qualifications in computer science and law with Arnotts Lawyers Jones Bay Wharf in Sydney. For more information, please visit www.arnotts.net.au.

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