Thursday, July 20, 2006

Countdown to the Australian DMCA

Kimberlee Weatherall has written a detailed article about the current situation in Australia with our local DMCA, why it is vitally important for all Australians, how we could end up with bad copyright law, and a couple of suggestions for how we might avoid having that bad law forced on us.

In the USA, the DMCA has been a terrible law. Originally passed by the government under the expectation that it would lead to more innovation and creativity, it quickly became obviously that it was a failure in that regard. Instead it has had a chilling effect on scientific research and creative industries like the software industry. The DMCA has, effectively, made the US government the enforcer for certain major companies as they behave anti-competitively. When it comes to so-called "intellectual property" like copyright, the US government is strongly opposed to free markets, giving legal privilege to anti-competive technologies that wouldn't survive a month in a free market. The US government has been the bully-boy supporting the entertainment cartel's efforts to snatch away consumers' ordinary property rights and replace them with a limited "licence to use".

(When you own property, you can choose how, when and where you use it; the entertainment cartel doesn't want you to own that DVD, they want to sell you a licence to watch it under conditions they set, such as the particular type of player you are allowed to use.)

While the DMCA has caused plenty of misery among (for example) security researchers and computer scientists. Of course, misery loves company, and so the USA has forced the provisions of the DMCA onto trade partners like Australia. When negotiating the so-called Free Trade Agreement, it was made clear to our diplomats that the demand that we introduce the same sorts of draconian, foolish copyright laws as the US was not only non-negotiable, but it was the only non-negotiable demand in the entire treaty.

I could speculate as to why that might be -- after all, the US government isn't into suffering for its own sake. Let's just say that while innovation has suffered under the DMCA, not everybody welcomes innovation. Companies with large investments in outmoded business models fear innovation, because it stirs up the market, allows competition to flourish, and threatens their revenue stream.

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