Australia has claimed many firsts in its relatively short history. Some you have probably never heard of, many you wouldn’t care about such as the invention of the world’s first rotating, height-adjustable outdoor clothes drying device called a Hills Hoist or the delectable culinary and gastronomic delight essential at every Aussie breakfast table and sandwich bar – Vegemite!
Big deal, I hear you say? OK then, Australia invented Wi-Fi and I bet you didn’t know that. It is a fact that a quasi-government research lab called the CSIRO actually came up with that particular wireless technology back in 1992. Apparently, not many others knew about it either because the CSIRO has been busy lately extracting a total of $425 million in patent royalties for its invention, from various US companies.
Hardly a princely sum for such an important technology advance yet it hasn’t escaped charges of being a greedy ”patent troll” by US companies. As The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper so eloquently put it – “Well, America: suck it up.”
In the same breath the paper reports one “Henry Sutton, who came within a bee’s dick of inventing the television, only his was called the ‘Telephane’ and used telegraph wires to beam images of the 1885 Melbourne Cup (horse race) to his house in Ballarat (an Australian provincial town).”
Perhaps more relevant to the digital age are two other recent unique firsts that are setting precedents worldwide. This week, an Australian court sentenced a jilted lover to six month’s jail for posting nude pictures of his ex-girlfriend on Facebook. There have been some other scattered cases like this around the world but this is receiving considerable notoriety, not only because of the nature of the offence and the vindictiveness shown by the culprit, but also the severity of the sentence.
It seems that, at last, people will be held accountable for their actions on social media. As the magistrate hearing the case put it, “incalculable damage can be done to a person’s reputation by the irresponsible posting of information through that medium (Facebook). With its popularity and potential for real harm, there is a genuine need to ensure the use of this medium to commit offences of this type is deterred.”
It may only be a matter of time before somebody tries to sue the likes of Facebook, as co-respondents, for allowing such explicit content to be uploaded and viewed by almost anyone.
Which brings is to the other Australian first that will have worldwide ramifications if used as a precedent. Back in 2008 a federation of 34 film and TV studios, many from Hollywood, decided to make an example of an ISP called iiNet for allowing its customers to download copyright content illegally. They alleged that iiNet authorized copyright violation by its users because the ISP had failed to take proper action even after being notified of the infringements.
In early 2010 the court ruled in favor of iiNet and the studios appealed not once, but twice. Now, the High Court has unanimously dismissed a final appeal, saying that iiNet had no direct technical power to prevent its customers from using file sharing systems to infringe copyright – and thus had not authorized those acts.
This will certainly not be the end of the matter but it does highlight that maybe the studios should look at working with ISPs and mobile network operators to make it worth their while to help stamp out copyright infringements. Instead of using the networks as free distribution channels maybe they should look at involving them in the value chain. After all, money talks and ISPs and CSPs are all ears just now.
Oh, I almost forgot, another critically important Aussie first is a 7-Eleven application that let’s you know where the closest Slurpee is available. Beat that America!
First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 23 April 2012