Monday, June 29, 2009

Will Second Life be banned in Australia?

Okay, I have been standing on the sidelines, trying to resist the temptation to contribute to this debate, at least until we have some meaningful understanding of the true Australian Government position on this topic. However, until we have that, here are some thoughts:
You will not fail to have seen the media comments that the Australian Government is going to block access to online 'games' not suitable for under 15s. The problem arises partly because the highest rating for computer games under the Australian classification regime is MA15+ but it is complicated further by the question as to what regime an online world, such as Second Life, should correctly fall under. In Australia, content must be rated under the classification scheme, but actual enforcement of the scheme falls under the state and territory laws for film, publications and computer games. TV is subject to a self-regulatory scheme, but 'online content' is under the auspices of ACMA. This is all subject to change when the Internet filtering scheme is introduced.
By my reckoning Second Life is not a game, and therefore should not be classified as such. More correctly it should be recognised as an online community, and therefore not subject to the games classification regime.
The definition of 'computer game' is:
'5A Meaning of computer game
(1) A computer game is a computer program and any associated data capable of generating a display on a computer monitor, television screen, liquid crystal display or similar medium that allows the playing of an interactive game.
(2) A computer program, data associated with a computer program or a computer program and any associated data that:
(a) is capable of generating new elements or additional levels into a game (the original game) that is a computer game under subsection (1); and
(b) is contained in a device separate from that containing the original game;is also a computer game.
(3) However, a computer game does not include an advertisement for a publication, film or computer game.'
There is no time here to get into game theory etc and there is scope for a bigger project on this, but in short Second Life is not a game.
For example, see the Human Rights Guidelines for online games providers, developed by the Council of Europe in 2008, which state: 'Although online virtual universes, such as Second Life, are confronted with some of the same issues connected with online social interaction as games, they are, for the purposes of these guidelines, not seen as online games. In comparison with online games, such universes only to a lesser degree constitute a programmed experience under the control of a game publisher. Virtual universes also lack a specified gaming scenario and set of goals to achieve for the gamer, characteristics which are normally found in online videogames.'
Needless to say this is causing a lot of angst in the Australian SL community. For the Metaverse Journal's take on this, see here.
I think logically Second Life should be regulated as communication rather than content, given its function as a social networking platform. I will be monitoring developments closely.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fair Dealing Back in Favour?

After years of unpopularity at the hands of CC, fair dealing seems to be back in favour!
A couple of recent reads have suggested this:
I have finally got around to reading the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts report on The reporting of sports news and the emergence of digital media (May 2009). The Committee makes a couple of interesting recommendations:
5.23 'The committee recommends that the parliament should not amend copyright law to clarify the application of the news 'fair dealing' exception, unless future specific case law outcomes appear to warrant it.' (5.23) and 'The committee recommends that the government consider and respond to the Copyright Law Review Committee report and its recommendations.' (5.25)
According to the Senate Committeee Report most media organisations agreed that 'the current copyright laws, and particularly the fair dealing provisions, were working well, did not require amendment and were the best option for the future.' Well , I suspect what this really means is that they are worried about losing control over their own arrangements if they ask for legislative or other governmental intervention. What they are currently doing is not really a reflection of the fair dealing laws, but rather a gentlemen's agreement worked out in the shadow of fair dealing.
Further, the Report notes at 4.5: 'Maintaining the stauts quo would leave news media organisations and sporting bodies to continue to act on their own interpretations of fair dealing. There may be future legal action and this would provide direction as to how current fair dealing provisions appply to the digital media environment. The Attorney-General's Department agreed that legal proceedings on fair dealing and its application to digital media would be useful.' Too right, but no one wants to actually do it, let alone pay for it! Perhaps some of us may have learnt a valuable lesson from The Panel case? If not, then Premier Media Group might sounds some warning bells! Anyway, the Report continues: at 4.7 'Keeping the situation as it currently stands means that the responsibility for negotiating media accreditation agreements- and resolving disputes- will remain with news media and sporting orgnisations.'
There is also an interesting discussion of whether there should be copyright in a sporting event as a performance (more relevant to some sports than others one suspects, and no Fabio Grosso we haven't forgiven your performance at the 2006 World Cup!)
So it will be interesting to see if this may revive an interest in responding to the CLRC Copyright and Contract Report (2002).
It is difficult to overstate the importance of sports content in Australia, as the Report notes, both as news and as entertainment, and as the line between them becomes increasingly blurred, it is harder to distinguish between the two. The Report reflects a careful and balanced approach.
The other item is an article by Prof Steven Hetcher, who presented a paper at the recent Age of Digital Convergence Conference, on 'Using Social Norms to regulate Fan Fiction and Remix Culture' (forthcoming), a fun presentation and a thought provoking read.
Oh, and the Chaser is back tonight!