Stop Being a Bully Mr Demetriou

Sorry Mr Demetriou there is no such thing as a simple change to copyright laws our copyright law is broken and needs to be fixed properly to reward creation and innovation in a digital world where billions of people are connected to trillions of devices.

Cries to protect consumer interests are not a furphy as Demetriou thundered last week. Like most bullies he attacks his opponents personally, not the substance of the debate by saying “This is a nonsense that Optus are peddling, that says that this is a win for the consumer is complete garbage.”

At the core of copyright and intellectual property law is that our society is granting the creator or inventor a monopoly for a limited time to exploit their investment in creating their work. This is different from a physical good where most of the value is in the materials and workmanship of each individual piece. But with ideas, information and knowledge the cost of replication is tiny in comparison to the cost of creating the original piece.

Our western society recognised that there are real problems with monopolies and starting more than 100 years ago our parliaments began placing very real limitations of monopolists.

The AFL has every right to expect some protection of their investment in creating a massive spectacle each week of their footy season but they cannot demand the Government bring in a quick fix in the next few weeks to protect their particular interests. The appeal to our High Court will take a year or two and until that time the current law of the land should stand without the Parliament being bullied into a quick fix.

The issue being contested is that in 2006 the Parliament amended the copyright laws to permit consumers to record free to air television and watch it later. The Federal Court has ruled in Optus’ favour that they providing consumers with a facility to record an individual copy of the free to air broadcast of a football match and watch it albeit 90 seconds later is a valid interpretation of the law.

After several years of investigation and deliberation the Australian Parliament passed legislation to address this complex area of copyright law and they appear to have not anticipated the technological invention of personalised copying from a mobile phone of broadcast television. To make a quick fix to this considered legislation is fraught with danger and no one can predict the unintended consequences of hasty legislative changes.

Two years ago in my keynote address to the Australian Computer Societies Digital Economy Conference I set out what I saw as the fundamental enablers of a connected economy; a frictionless payment system, appropriate privacy and security and addressing our broken intellectual property laws.

This is a complex and difficult task that requires Ministers in our Government with the intellect, integrity and foresight to bring together experts from many sectors of our economy and the many government departments to create an effective solution to our current problems. It requires those Ministers not to be unduly influenced by powerful vested interests like the AFL and consider more than the friendships built up over many years at the Grand Final, the Australian Open Tennis Championship and the Presidents Cup to bring both the powerful and humble together and devise a better way of living in a digital connected society.

At the turn of the last century, when the Wright Bros first flew an aeroplane American law held that a property owner owned not just the surface of his land, but all that lay below, through to the centre of the earth, as well as all the space above to an indefinite extent upwards. If American property owners where allowed by the courts to keep those rights, the airline industry would never have left the ground.

The connected digital economy, similarly, requires the associated law to change. If it does not change, then, digital inventors of the future will be grounded because they will be negotiating with every digital property owner beneath every digital flight path that they wish to take.

So Mr Demetriou please work for an effective solution to this important problem of the digital age and use your considerable influence to achieve a permanent and valuable change in our laws that will benefit everyone not just the AFL. It is after all the people game Mr Demetriou!