November 22, 2006 French philosopher Joseph Marie de Maistre's famous quotation, "Every country has the government it deserves", seems particularly apt with Australia's citizenry continuing to put up with ongoing ill-considered legislation as the country tries to keep apace with the fast changing world of digital media. The Australian Internet Industry Association (IIA) has issued a warning that changes to Australia's copyright laws being rushed through Australian Parliament risk making criminals out of everyday Australians. The IIA in conjunction with QUT Intellectual Property Law Research Program has compiled these risk analyses (teenagers, families, small business and industry - all in PDF format) of how Australians could be liable for heavy fines and even jail under the new copyright regime by engaging in activities which many would regard as commonplace. The illustration is just one example - there are dozens of other frightening potential scenarios. "We can't be sure if this is the government's intent, or whether there has been a terrible oversight in the drafting of this Bill. Either way, the consequences for the average Australian family could be devastating, " said IIA chief executive, Peter Coroneos.
The proposed changes to the Bill can be found by visiting here, then clicking on "browse" > "legislation" > "current bills by title" > "Copyright amendment bill 2006".
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"As an example," said Mr Coroneos, "a family who holds a birthday picnic in a place of public entertainment (for example, the grounds of a zoo) and sings 'Happy Birthday' in a manner that can be heard by others, risks an infringement notice carrying a fine of up to $1320. If they make a video recording of the event, they risk a further fine for the possession of a device for the purpose of making an infringing copy of a song. And if they go home and upload the clip to the internet where it can be accessed by others, they risk a further fine of up to AUD$1320 for illegal distribution. All in all, possible fines of up to AUD$3960 for this series of acts - and the new offences do not require knowledge or improper intent. Just the doing of the acts is enough to ground a legal liability under the new 'strict liability' offences."
"We have gone over and over our legal analysis, with the assistance of legal academics and regulatory experts. Not only can we see no justification for the severity of the penalties, but the complexity of the new laws will make it extremely difficult for everyday Australians to avoid a potential liability - and when the level of penalties which attach to the new offences is understood, the scenarios are pretty terrifying," Mr Coroneos said.
Professor Brian Fitzgerald, head of the School of Law at QUT added his concern: "We assume the new broad ranging laws will be enforced. If the Government intends that they are not, then we'd be wanting to know why the provisions have not been more carefully drafted to target commercial scale piracy rather than Australian families."
"The fact that the Government is intent on pushing these amendments through so fast is very disturbing. The Bill passed the House of Representatives last week and is due to become law in mid December, with commencement on 1 January 2007," Professor Fitzgerald said.
Mr Coroneos underlined the IIA's position: "We fully understand the need to protect copyright - our submission to the Senate Committee begins with that proposition. The internet needs content and content creators need incentives to create. But these amendments are overkill and risk delivering a host of unintended consequences at a time when no other country in the world has criminal sanctions for non commercial scale infringements."
"The US Free Trade Agreement does not require Australia to go down this path, and neither US nor European law contain such far reaching measures. We at a total loss to understand how this policy has developed, who is behind it and why there is such haste in enacting it into law - with little if any public debate."
If you would like to express your concern over the proposed changes, please write to the Attorney-General, the Hon. Phillip Ruddock, at
PO Box 1866 Hornsby Westfield NSW 1635
PO Box 6022 House of Representatives Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone at parliament house: (02) 6277 7300 Telephone at electorate office: (02) 9482 7111