Telco giants do the techno-legal time warp, again

February 3, 2012

Telecommunications giant Optus managed to convince the Federal Court in Sydney this week that there’s a legal blindspot in relation to its download pay-per-view service.

Telstra – given its business relationship with The National Rugby League (NRL) and Australian Football League (NFL) – had tried to prevent Optus from recording and re-broadcasting matches screened on free-to-air television.

But Justice Steven Rares found Optus’s mobile television service didn’t breach the Copyright Act for a couple of reasons: Optus keeps separate recordings for each customer, and individual customers are responsible for requesting the recordings.

So what’s going on here?

To my mind, former rugby league coach Roy Masters – ever the shrewd observer – hit the nail on the head when he wrote the following for the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday:

“They framed the copyright laws to protect the average punter from being sued for taping a TV show, including a football match on his home recorder. Now, their legislation is being used by Optus to sell a service.”

Naturally, Telstra has concerns. The AFL’s A$1.25 billion five-year rights deal signed last season with Channel Seven, Foxtel and Telstra, included a A$153m payment by Telstra for the online broadcast rights to games. The NRL, likewise, expected a proportion of its next deal to come from internet rights.

[first published on The Conversation, 3 Feb, 2012]

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Join the cyber-revolt! Who owns your Facebook stuff?

February 19, 2009

I am well pleased with the current tide of resentment that’s building towards the way that Facebook is doing business.

We’ve had the amazing spectacle this week of the Facebook admins having to delete groups and personal accounts after public outrage over cyber-vigilantes baying for blood and revenge in the most obscene ways. [The witches of Facebook / Facebook vigilantes]

And, in an ironic twist of fateful timing, in the same week Facebook announced and then withdrew new terms of service because users kicked up a fuss.

The Facebook admins have been forced to create a group of their own Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, to allow users to address their concerns over who owns the rights to user-generated content on the site.

There’s certainly a fair smattering of dribblejaws on Facebook, but there’s also a large number of active citizens (netizens) who recognise the professional and social advantages of the networking site, but who are also savvy enough to argue points of law with the Facebook admins.

This could well be a watershed case about digital rights that rivals the Napster file-sharing case as a test of copyright and privacy law.

It’s a classic example of what I call the “techno-legal time-gap”. The law and the ethical regime do not keep pace with the technology. In this case it seems Facebook wants the right to sub-licence material (re-sell it) and to profit from what its members post.

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