Just when we thought for sure he’d been lost at sea or killed by natives, Sam Kearns returns from the wild blue yonder with a new webcast episode packed full of shiny goodness.

In this episode Sam speaks to Melanie Thomas about running as a Pirate candidate for the seat of Griffith and follows the antics of Attorney General George Brandis as he says all the things we don’t want to hear in parliament and at the AUDA forum. Subscribe to the feed, or view past episodes.

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A report recommending the introduction of fair use in Australia was yesterday tabled in Parliament by the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis[1]. “Copyright and the Digital Economy,” an inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), was tasked with examining whether the current copyright regime is adequately meeting the needs of the increasingly Internet-reliant Australian population. This is the second law reform report in just over a decade to recommend the introduction of fair use, and is more than 400 pages long.

Pirate Party Australia, a strong supporter of the introduction of fair use, was among the hundreds of individuals and organisations that made a submission to the ALRC[2], and was cited more than 10 times in the report. The fair use proposals would provide a generic, flexible exception that allows the unlicenced use of copyrighted material in certain circumstances where a court determines the use of a work (entirely or in part) is reasonable. Several countries have fair use or similar provisions, notably the United States and Israel, and fair use has been credited with providing a fertile environment for the growth of the modern Internet, being necessary for major search engines to function. Australia lacks the competitive edge of the United States in this area, putting the Australian digital economy at an enormous disadvantage.

“Over the past twenty or so years we have adopted many of the negative aspects of the United States’ copyright system, but with few of the safeguards the American laws have,” commented Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer, Deputy Secretary of Pirate Party Australia. “While we increased our copyright term to life plus seventy years via the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement in the early 2000s, we did not import fair use as a flexible exception for using copyrighted material without a licence. If the recommendations of the ALRC report are adopted, Australia will finally be taking positive steps towards copyright reform. These reforms are long overdue and go a long way to ensuring that Australia has copyright laws that genuinely reflect the needs of our society.”

Senator Scott Ludlam’s “Fair Go for Fair Use” Bill pre-empted the results of the ALRC inquiry, and is expected to be reintroduced to Parliament soon. Pirate Party Australia has been highly supportive of this Bill, and hopes that the ALRC report spurs Parliament into passing the much-needed legislation. The ALRC’s report notes the advantages of fair use, such as its flexibility and ability to promote the public interest and assist innovation, and that it aligns with reasonable consumer expectations while protecting rights holders’ markets and moral rights.

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The overnight release of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’s draft intellectual property chapter has exceeded Pirate Party Australia’s worst fears. While the Party is yet to undertake a thorough analysis of the draft, there are already some provisions that are glaringly ill-considered.

Despite numerous assurances from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) the TPP would not require changes to domestic intellectual property legislation, the draft text indicates that substantial legislative changes would be required if the United States and Australia got its way. These changes may include the criminalisation of “significant willful copyright […] infringements that have no direct […] motivation of financial gain.”

“This corporate wishlist masquerading as a trade agreement is bad for access to knowledge, access to medicine, and access to innovation. It re-enforces the worst parts of our intellectual property enforcement regime on a regional level, making the necessary positive reforms for the digital era much more difficult, if not impossible,” said Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia.

“It is absolutely appalling that we are still relying on leaked texts to determine just what we’re getting ourselves into with these trade agreements. Even Parliament is being kept in the dark. It’s time to release the text, and all future texts, so that transparency and oversight can result in texts that help, not hinder, legitimate Australian interests. There is no economic justification for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’s intellectual property provisions. DFAT must immediately hold public briefings to explain their now public negotiating positions. It’s time for some accountability.”

The Australian delegation is attributed with the minority in many cases, often siding with the US. The current text would require the accession of all parties to several other intellectual property agreements in order to be a member of this agreement, endangering any future positive reform efforts due to layering of treaties. The US is pushing for pharmaceutical provisions that the Australian delegation is standing against.

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The Australian reported today that Attorney-General George Brandis has sent letters to copyright holders and ISPs to organise discussions on the best way to stop file sharing. The article suggests plans are afoot to create a censorship regime to block sites that enable file sharing[1].

Pirate Party Australia condemns any plan to install a censorship regime, whether it is to block ‘objectionable content’ (as attempted by the previous government) or to block access to websites that may include unauthorised copyrighted material.

“Yet again we are faced with a government that is an enemy of the Internet,” commented Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “Previous Attorney-Generals organised secret meetings between ISPs and the copyright lobby, deliberately excluding consumers, and now history repeats. We demand that any consultation about the future of the Internet be conducted transparently and include competent and trusted representatives of the community, not just vested interests.”

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Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) are expected by some participants to conclude this month[1], although the Malaysian Prime Minister has indicated that this goal is optimistic[2]. The TPP is one of the largest trade agreements in history and is being negotiated, in secret, by twelve countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

In the past two years there have been only a handful of leaked draft texts for the intellectual property and investment chapters, but little in the way of official information on the actual content or negotiating positions. Signatory nations to the TPP will be required to modify their laws to conform with the requirements of the TPP where necessary.

Pirate Party Australia is critical of the lack of transparency in the negotiations and the content of the TPP. It is known from leaked texts that the TPP will include an intellectual property chapter which may further extend the reach of legislation such as the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The text indicates that the chapter will impose provisions at least as severe as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which was last year rejected by the European Parliament following enormous protests across Europe. ACTA’s ratification has been delayed following recommendations from Australia’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

“The only time that the Australian public will be able to comment on the text is when it is finished and signed,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “There is no opportunity to critique and to provide input, or to even see what is being planned. We are talking about potentially major changes to Australian laws and the public is being shut out. Pirate Party Australia has attended and presented at numerous ‘consultations’ and negotiating rounds, where representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have given half-answers and limited indications of what changes will actually be required by the Agreement.”

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