Friday, March 17, 2006

Freedom of speech?

Unlike the U.S. Australia doesn't have a constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. Some bold liberal High Court Judges have given us an "implied right" but we discovered this week that this is a very slim right indeed.

An internet bureaucrat called Bruce has hauled down a clever website http://www.johnhowardpm.org by celebrated Oz co-founder Richard Neville because it infringed John Howard's intellectual property rights and "To us it looked like phishing". (a pdf version is still available on Richard Neville's website)

This is parody, kids. Phishing is when fraudsters try to steal your credit card details. Does the Prime Minister feel so weak, so vulnerable that he's threatened by a fiesty imagined rewriting of his pro-war rhetoric?

Does anyone else feel the totalitarian jackboot? A culture of political satire is a hallmark of a healthy democracy. Governments that crack down on this kind of political expression do not deserve to operate under the great cloak of democracy. Hitler banned Charlie Chaplin's Great Dictator - although he is reputed to have enjoyed a private screening of his own, demonstrating that at least he may have had a sense of humour.

Surely the Fourth Estate are outraged that in Australia the PM's "intellectual property rights" are deemed more important than free political expression? Wouldn't the media, of all people, see this as a fundamental issue about freedom of speech? The papers must be full of outraged editorials, just as Melbourne's parochial media was fuming at being banned from showing preview footage of this week's Commonwealth Games opening ceremony?

Apparently, bread and circuses rate better than sophisticated political satire, in the department that Slashdot calls "the ah-to-breath-the-free-air-of-australia dept. ". The only news coverage we could find was this matter-of-fact report in the Fairfax press, and this piece in Crikey today that accepts at face value Bureaucrat Bruce's explanation.

Not so in the U.S. - P2Pnet are reporting that Australia has banned spoof websites - but then, since political satire is protected over there, George W hasn't even sent the White House lawyers in to shut down http://www.whitehouse.com.

We particularly like the picture of Condy Rice. Maybe George W does too, but even the neo-cons' assault on democracy can't erase their constitution.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Rob Irwin said...

Ha! I always thought whitehouse.com was a porn site. They must have sold it at some stage...

3:40 am  
Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone said...

I don't think there is much of a comparison between whitehouse.com and Nevils site.

Whitehouse.com looks nothing like the whitehouse.gov site where Nevils site is a rip off of the www.pm.gov.au site.

I think the government/PM had every right to ask to bring the site down. If Nevil is so clever and his speech so important as satire, why go to the lengths to copy the site unless he was after a cheep bit of Publicity?

Molly
PS. You missed that Cam Reilly reported about the site too.

4:57 am  
Blogger Rebekka said...

Neville's site isn't a rip off, it's a parody. The fact that the site looks like John Howard's site is kinda essential to the whole satire/parody thing.

5:19 pm  
Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone said...

Have a look at what Senator Andrew Bartlett has to say:
http://www.andrewbartlett.com/blog/?p=171#more-171

What if Neville's site had mentions of Child Pronograph or the likes? Surely Neville left the out for the site to be pulled in that he made it such a copy rather then a rework or trying to make it seem that it might be something the PM put together. This was either silly or smart depending on what you think his intention was. If it was done like this to make sure it got press because it was pulled then it did what it was meant to.

It should be noted that the PM's site does have a copyright statement and its obvious that Neville broke this.

Also on the Satire, I am not sure why it had to be the same for the Satire to work? Is this because Neville wasn't smart enough to make it work any other way?

To be honest, I haven't even bothered to read Neville's fake letter because the delivery was so bad!

Lastly, if it is the case that the PM (or his people) pulled the site to get rid of the message, why have all the sites with the PDF been pulled? Riddle me that Batman! I think that is the kill blow to the argument that its censorship when in relatity its a simple, simple case of breach of copyright.

JMTC
Molly
http://www.mollyzine.com

9:58 pm  
Blogger Hugo said...

Thanks Phillip,
no doubt the rules of the relevant authority, ICANN, seem pretty clear that sites that replecate the look of another without authorisation aren't allowed. Intellectuall property should be protected as a general rule - but my view is the PM, with the machinery of government at his disposal to spread his word to every corner of the land, should be strong enough to laugh this one off. And yes, I did miss Cam Reilly's comments, which you can catch on his blog together with a spirited discussion: http://reilly.typepad.com/

10:17 pm  
Blogger Rt Hon Anon said...

Well, my obscure blog www.not-kim-beazley.blogspot.com was forced to change its name after the host received complaints of impersonation... Did anyone really think that yours truly was Big Kim...?

7:09 pm  
Blogger Hugo said...

Well, you are almost as windy as him, mate! Where do you find the time to fill your blog with so many metric hectares of verbiage?

11:50 pm  
Blogger Rt Hon Anon said...

Well, Hugog, one is pleased to say that rhetorical effusion comes naturally to one, and one is able to unleash a perpetual stream of pellucid prose at whim.

11:01 pm  
Anonymous Robert King said...

Well, my site, dedicated to Australia's most ambitious photo opportunist, Bruce Billson still survives. www.brucebillson.com was established to reveal the true Bruce Billson, now Veteran Affairs minister, during the last Federal Election.

3:34 am  

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