New Zealand: Three strikes and no Internet

BoingBoing has a link to a blog post by a New Zealander who sat in on a meeting with New Zealand officials, a meeting ostensibly about getting their input on the country’s proposed copyright legislation, and in particular a so-called “three strikes” rule, which would force Internet service providers to cut off users after warning them twice about copyright infringing behaviour. But as it turns out, the minister wasn’t there to hear any input about why such a rule is either a) wrong, b) stupid or c) wrong — she was there to chew out critics for even suggesting any such thing, and to tell them the law is going through regardless.

She began by strongly expressing her anger that we had complained to her at this stage in the proceedings. None of us, she said, had been to see her before this on this topic. When we protested that we had worked with the Select Committee, which had removed this provision – and balanced it with one which made licence holders liable for false accusations – she said that this was completely inappropriate of the Select Committee, because Cabinet had already decided this was going ahead.

When the group of which Colin Jackson was a part tried to protest that it wasn’t easy to tell for sure whether people were engaging in copyright infringement, the minister said it worked for child pornography; when her critics pointed out that child pornography was a federal crime and copyright infringement was a civil matter, she said that was irrelevant; when they said that removing people’s Internet access was all out of proportion with the alleged offense, she said that New Zealand’s cultural industries were being decimated and something had to be done.

As bad as Canada’s Bill C-61 is — and as Michael Geist continues to point out, it is pretty bad — it’s not nearly as bad as that. Yet.

Behind the missing SNL bailout video

One of the highlights of last weekend’s Saturday Night Live episode — apart from the brilliant (as always) Sarah Palin impersonation by Tina Fey — was a clip in which George Bush, Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank talk about the Wall Street bailout and who is to blame, and then a succession of pathetic characters tell their stories. I recall seeing a Twitter message (I think it was from Mark Hopkins of Mashable) on Monday about how the clip was nowhere to be found. I didn’t think that much of it, because I assumed NBC had pulled it from YouTube for the usual reasons.

As it turns out, however, NBC pulled the video for legal reasons — in a nutshell, I think, it was afraid it was going to get sued. Although there have been a number of dark whispers from right-wing types such as Michelle Malkin about how the skit was yanked because it criticized Democrats like Pelosi and Frank (as well as equally dark whispers about how it was pulled because it criticized billionaire George Soros), according to NBC the skit was removed and re-edited because it “didn’t meet quality standards.” A website has since appeared that has the original clip, as well as a number of news stories and blog posts about it (it has a .cx domain name, which — in case you’re wondering — belongs to Christmas Island).

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Your intellectual property tastes delicious

This has to be my favourite intellectual property dispute ever: according to reports from a variety of sources, including Associated Press and Haaretz, a group known as the Association of Lebanese Industrialists is planning to file a lawsuit against the state of Israel for “stealing” traditional Lebanese delicacies such as hummus (which is spelled about seven different ways) as well as baba gannouj, falafels and tabouleh.

As it turns out, of course, Lebanon doesn’t actually own the trademark to such dishes, but the head of the ALI says he’s planning to file something, and once he gets the rights he’s going to sue someone (it’s not clear who). The precedent, apparently, is the case that Greece launched to get the exclusive EU rights to the term “feta” cheese.

The only wrinkle in the Lebanese plan? A number of other groups — including the Palestinians — claim they invented the dishes Lebanon wants to trademark (The Guardian says that tabouleh was developed in Ottoman Syria, including what is now Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan). Can’t they all just sit down and talk this one over?

This is big: Judge orders new RIAA trial

In a decision that could have far-reaching implications for future lawsuits by the record industry involving peer-to-peer networks, the judge who was hearing the Jammie Thomas case has thrown out the decision in that case, effectively declaring a mistrial, saying he now believes he was wrong to have instructed the jury that simply “making available” copyrighted files was enough to find Thomas guilty of copyright infringement. In the original case, the judge said that it was not necessary to show that anyone had actually download the files, but he now believes that this was wrong, and that actual distribution must be shown, not just that the files were available:

The Court’s examination of the use of the term “distribution” in other provisions of the Copyright Act, as well as the evolution of liability for offers to sell in the analogous Patent Act, lead to the conclusion that the plain meaning of the term “distribution” does not including making available and, instead, requires actual dissemination.

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Comments more like slander than libel

Shane Richmond at the Telegraph has news of an interesting ruling from a British High Court judge, in a case that involved allegedly defamatory comments posted to an online discussion group about investing. In his decision, Mr. Justice Eady said that even though some of the comments on the investment forum amounted to “vulgar abuse,” they were much more like slander — in other words, much more like nasty remarks that are made to someone in person — than they were like libel (which usually involves writing or publication). As he put it:

“[Such comments] are rather like contributions to a casual conversation (the analogy sometimes being drawn with people chatting in a bar) which people simply note before moving on; they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out. Those who participate know this and expect a certain amount of repartee or ‘give and take’.”

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