Snail mail falters open source campaign

Linux Australia's battle against proposed copyright laws had the Attorney General's Department a tad confused yesterday.

The open source group issued an open letter to the Attorney General Philip Ruddock attacking anti-circumvention laws.

But when contacted by Computerworld the Attorney General's office was yet to receive the letter.

Linux Australia had sent the letter by post on Monday and it hadn't arrived late yesterday.

However, the Attorney General's media spokesperson said the department was certainly aware of the open source industry's views.

"Linux Australia has met with the department and is aware of its views," the spokesperson said.

In the letter, Linux Australia states that: "Proposals to outlaw legitimate access to copyright material threaten [open source] by creating new legal weapons against legitimate competition and forcing business to migrate back towards the incumbent and predominantly international software suppliers.

"Business disruption and higher prices will be one side-effect of poor implementation of our anti-circumvention obligations."

Anti-circumvention laws may introduce and enforce a new category of copyright violations that prohibit users from circumventing security controls designed to control access to digital media and products. The laws are required under the Free Trade Agreement negotiated between the US and Australia.

When asked if the department would meet Linux Australia to discuss the proposed laws, the Attorney General's offfice said it is open to discussion but stopped short of a definitive answer.

"The Attorney General has a very open policy to meeting with industry," the spokesperson said. "The government has not finalized its views on this matter and there are more consultations planned with industry."

Linux Australia IP policy advisor Rusty Russell said although the treaty does not demand Australia adopt a carbon copy of the suppressive US law, "large business interests" are pushing for similar restrictions on access to digital material.

"The treaty doesn't force us to implement this like the US, where these laws have driven litigation to suppress academic publications, prevent third-party printer cartridge manufacturers and eliminate competition by open source software. But naturally, some large business interests are pressing for the same restrictions on legitimate access to digital material here," he said.

The letter concluded that anti-circumvention laws would not only inhibit open source, but create ongoing legal and ethical problems.

"We have no issue with laws which give copyright holders authority over fences they place around their own property. However, laws which give them authority over fences they place around others' property would be absurd, anti-competitive, anti-consumer, and would lead us into a destructive blaze of legal threats and litigation for years to come," Linux Australia said.

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