US 'pressuring' Australia for DMCA-style law

The chairman of US-based digital rights advocacy group the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) has warned that Australian technology rights are being threatened. "The United States is pressuring Australia under the Free Trade Agreement treaty and other treaties to adopt a law very similar to the US [Digital Millennium Copyright Act]," Brad Templeton told a small audience at a Unix conference in Sydney this morning.

The chairman of US-based digital rights advocacy group the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) has warned that Australian technology rights are being threatened.

"The United States is pressuring Australia under the Free Trade Agreement treaty and other treaties to adopt a law very similar to the US [Digital Millennium Copyright Act]," Brad Templeton told a small audience at a Unix conference in Sydney this morning.

The act, commonly known as the DMCA, is a controversial piece of technology legislation enacted in the United States in 1998, with the broad intent of making it illegal to circumvent technology used by copyright owners to protect digital content. The Free Trade Agreement between the US and Australia, which came into effect this year, requires some legislation be harmonised between the two nations.

Templeton claimed Australia's own watered-down equivalent of the DMCA, the Digital Agenda Act, had had good results recently when compared with the DMCA, but exhorted his audience to be watchful for new, stronger legislation.

The digital rights advocate also took a stab at a new raft of laws designed to curb terrorism and currently being mooted by the Federal government.

He said parts of the United States' Patriot Act were starting to sneak into new Australian legislation. The legislation expanded law enforcement agencies' abilities in certain areas and was enacted in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001.

"It's getting copied all around the world, and elements of it are showing up in Australian law," he said. Templeton is particularly concerned about any potential expansion of law enforcement authorities' rights to tap communications.

He pointed out the US comms regulator had recently ruled that Internet telephony was subject to wiretap legislation just like traditional telephone services.

"That's an American law, maybe you don't feel too afraid of it outside the United States, but all the vendors in the world have to deal with the American market," he said. "Either they are Americans or they produce products that sell into the American market."

"Because of that, they have very little choice but to implement this [wiretap backdoor], and when they implement it, they don't take it out when they ship it to an Australian customer."

"Of course, people in those countries get that stuff and then their laws get modified to require this kind of wiretap capability."

Allegiance to the flag?
Another item on Templeton's list of digital rights erosions is a potential restriction on the ability of Australians to record and distribute digital television broadcasts.

The restriction -- dubbed a 'broadcast flag' -- would stop content being broadcast to computer and video hardware that didn't have protection technology to stop the broadcast being copied.

While a move to introduce such a flag in the US was struck down by a court last May, new rules being mooted in Europe could see it brought into Australia.

"You're about to get a similar law in Australia through what is called DVB copy control," said Templeton.

This could happen, according to Templeton, because Australian digital television is broadcast in line with the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standard.

"One of our staff members, Cory Doctorow, has been attending all the European standards board's meetings for DVB," he said.

"Their working group has been heavily influenced by a lot of movie studios and so on, who've come in and said that the European standard will have in them something far grander than the broadcast flag."

Templeton was speaking at the annual conference of the Australian Unix and Open Systems Users Group (AUUG), which is being held in Sydney this week.