FryUp: FACT off

Sighs of relief as judge delivers strong verdict


It really is true that despite New Zealand being beyond the arse-end of the planet, we get to enjoy some real world-class events here. Webstock is on again in Wellington, with workshops starting week after next and a conference on Thursday and Friday. The programme is chockers with excellent speakers from here and overseas on a range of interesting web-related topics, ranging from the geeky to the visionary. Here’s hoping the FryUp gets to go to Wellington this year for a taste of Webstock. — Webstock 2010

FACT off

As the battle for who owns and polices our culture continues, an important test case against iiNet concluded yesterday, with the Australian arm of the global Federation Against Copyright Theft or AFACT as the losers. Although not a peep has been heard from NZ providers, it’s a safe bet that they, like iiNet and Australian ISPs and telcos, are heaving sighs of relief. Had AFACT won, it could’ve forced ISPs to monitor and police their customers’ activity on the internet, or face legal consequences of not doing so. Despite a significant difference in law between Australia and New Zealand — Australia has a specific clause making it an offence to "authorise" infringement — this case will have broad implications here and beyond. AFACT is fuming over the loss, and as the judge in the case left some key points up in the air, such as the Australian Telco Act prohibiting ISPs from responding to rights holders’ representatives’ requests, there may be further litigation coming up. What’s striking about the case and the actions of the FACTs around the world so far is how unreasonable they are. iiNet’s Michael Malone has held up an olive branch to the entertainment industry, to work out a way to provide customers with what they want: music and videos over the Internet. In response, Malone and Co were asked to bend over to receive a sound thrashing with the olive branch in court. In summarising the case, the judge found that infringements of copyright were significantly less than AFACT alleged, so clearly the issue isn’t as serious as the rights holders claim. This is a really important part of the ruling that mustn’t be overlooked. Judge Cowdroy’s finding didn’t however stop AFACT executive director Neil Gane going on record to say “rampant copyright infringement” has been allowed to continue unaddressed and unabated via the iiNet network. More so, AFACT is putting words into the Aussie government’s mouth, saying this wasn’t the verdict the latter was looking for. If the law doesn’t deliver the desired outcome, it must be bent to accommodate the wishes of rights holders, seems to be the attitude. With that kind bloody-mindedness at the fore, it is a mystery why the FACTs have our politicians’ ears and enjoy their claims to be quoted as undisputed, err, facts in official documents and legislative papers. The result of such lobbying can be seen in absurd court cases like the recent one against Men At Work and EMI. The basis of that case is a children’s tune written in 1934 the copyright to which was apparently won in a tender in 1990, after the author herself died. MAW lost the case, so the band and EMI now face backdated royalties to the 70s and 80s, plus share of future profits for the Down Under song. With that kind of legal reach spanning decades, how sensible is it to further strengthen copyright law in favour of rights holders? — Australian ISP wins case about internet copyright abuseAFACT v iiNet: ISPs applaud decisionAustralian government tight-lipped on iiNet implicationsISPs won’t need to be cops: iiNetClare Curran: Aussie decision has implications for NZ copyrightMen at Work ripped off kid's tune - court

XKCD Spirit


Robert X Cringely Will Wikileaks drown in its own red ink?

The Web's most famous source of confidential info has suspended operations due to money troubles. What's left of investigative reporting might go down with it We have interrupted our nonstop coverage of Apple iPad mania to bring you this important word about the freedom of information -- more specifically, I've written about Wikileaks several times over the last few years, in part because it's a classic example of why the internet is such an extraordinary telecommunications tool. Wikileaks is usually described as a "whistleblower" site, but it's really more of a safe haven for secrets that need to be exposed -- kind of like a Swiss bank, only in reverse, so it's kind of fitting that a Swiss bank is one of its most famous targets. But instead of shielding people who are trying to hide their assets, it exposes them. Thanks to the nature of the Net, confidential sources can make those secrets public without putting their own necks on the chopping block. (Admittedly, these sources sometimes break the law or their legal agreements by doing so. And Wikileaks sometimes exposes information -- like personal email addresses -- of people who've done nothing wrong. It's far from perfect.) Through its work, Wikileaks has exposed money-laundering banks, brainwashing cults, repressive governments, corporate scofflaws, butter-fingered politicos, and all other manner of bad actors. Not surprisingly, the org has been sued by its deep-pocketed targets, harassed by the authorities, and attacked by DDoSers. Now it faces the biggest obstacle of all: money -- or, rather, a lack thereof. Last week Wikileaks announced it has been forced to suspend its operations due to a lack of funds. That sound you hear is champagne glasses clinking in the boardrooms at Bank Julius Baer, at the Scientology HQ in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the government halls of Beijing, and in other elite locations around the globe. I can understand why the wiki's donor pool dried up. About a year ago, Wikileaks sprung a leak itself and accidentally emailed a list of its financial patrons, some of whom probably would have preferred to remain anonymous. That email was then submitted to Wikileaks, which dutifully posted it like any other document it receives from anonymous sources. Now it's seeking donations from the public to stay afloat, as well as technical resources (like servers and storage space) and legal expertise. Its supporters have started a Facebook group (numbering about 1,200 members at press time), and other journos besides yours truly are spreading the good word.

Why support Wikileaks? Because investigative journalism is on a respirator, and the prognosis isn't good. For one thing, this kind of reporting is expensive. You need publications that can afford to pay a professional reporter, or a team of them, to dig into a story for months or even years without any promise that they'll end up with something worth publishing. Those stories might involve the use of a private detective, and they will almost always require the services of a team of attorneys to vet the copy carefully and defend the story later in court, if required. None of that stuff comes cheap. Still, investigative reporting was how major news dailies and dozens of glossy mags made their bones back in the day. Now the number of publications that can continue to fund this kind of reporting have been whittled down to a handful, and most of those are teetering on the brink. These days it's all about how fast you can publish a story online -- even when it bears little resemblance to reality as defined by most people -- and how much Google loves you as a result. There aren't a lot of rewards for reporting and reflection there. Sure, the blogosphere can occasionally step in and break a story, just like a blind pig occasionally stumbles across an acorn. But only for the most brain-dead simple stuff -- like the wrong font used in a typewritten letter. Most investigative breakthroughs involve detailed painstaking work, deep understanding of a topic, and the ability to earn the trust of a wide range of confidential sources who are willing to put their jobs and possibly their lives at risk just by talking to you. Those things are not generally available to obsessive-compulsive pajama-wearing typists who may or may not be using their real names. And they certainly won't be without resources like Wikileaks, which levels the information playing field for everyone, professional and amateur journos alike. So it's your choice. You can spend $10 on a couple of lattes and a kruller, or you can spend it on keeping information flowing just a little more freely around the world. I know which one I'd pick. — If Wikileaks goes down, will something new rise to take its place? Post your thoughts below or email me:

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