News today that Attourney General Ruddock has modified some of the worst aspects of the new Australian Copyright Law. His FAQ. We are now allowed to sing "Happy Birthday" in public without on the spot fines, record programs to watch them later (but not allowed to keep them or show them to any public audience - bad luck for teachers who tape a good show for school), you can copy music you buy to your ipod (wow!) and you are allowed to listen to it with a friend but not allowed to lend it to your friend, let alone make them a copy, but you are allowed to lend it to a family member (well, yes, we do need to teach our young people the importance of family!!). Even if you have bought a CD you are not allowed to make a copy if it has a TPM on it (technological protection measure). No backups allowed for your own property.
Some of the worst elements have been removed but the Attourney General's FAQ churns my stomach because it means that a generalised fair use provision has been abandoned in favour of a futile attempt to define each and every case. We can no longer sloppily assume that what we are doing is "fair use", it is now being defined in exact terms in each and every case - in practice, impossible, the law cannot achieve that. We are now locked into an FAQ lifesyle wrt copyright where we go cap in hand to the Minister asking is it alright to do what comes naturally and which is core to teacher's work - copying, modifying and distributing information.
I think we need an overview of what copyright ought to be about from our perspective as knowledge workers, starting from these sorts of big picture perspectives:
1. Copyright as the natural, inalienable right of the owner
2. Copyright as a balance between the rights of the owner and the rights of society
3. Copyleft, expand the commons
Attourney General Ruddock supports (1). I don't and this has not been the historical rationale for copyright.
In fact, Mr Ruddock said his reforms made Australia a world leader on copyright reform.Note the use of the words, "fair and certain" - ie. trying to achieve certainty where it cannot be achieved and where you need to have a safety valve fair use provision.
"Australia's approach is in contrast to those countries which have a general 'fair use' right or which put levies on equipment for private copying," he said in a statement.
"Many countries have not yet tackled the issue of fair use in the digital environment. Australia's approach is fair and certain for all concerned."
- from The Age Report, FAQ address copyright concerns
This is exactly what google was warning us about in their submission to the australian copyright act - that there would be an attempt at certainty where it is not possible to achieve certainty.
Google presents a very strong and convincing case for maintaining fair use ("safety valve") provisions as well as exceptions.
... it is difficult to identify all current problems ... and impossible to prophesy future problems . An exclusive list of specific exemptions will inevitably run afoul of technology's rapidly changing reality ... such boundaries are inherently artificial and are not in accord with the nature of creativity ... Creativity is sui generis (of its own kind, unique in its characteristics, cannot be included in a wider concept) and contextual. An arbitrary limit on the number of words that can be copied ... runs roughshod over the way innovation arises ..."