We’ve just received a note, that for those who don't know – Facebook has agreed to let third party advertisers use your posted pictures without your permission. (also known as "opt-out").

This being the case, internet users are once again expected to protect their own property like ‘settlers on a frontier without borders’.   Meanwhile, we have less than a fortnight to make submissions on New Zealand Government legislation which would place more power in the hands of internet service providers ( ‘warlords’ or ‘sheriffs’) .

The viral email advises Facebook users to click on ‘Settings’ up at the top where you see the Log out link.  Select ‘Privacy’. Then select ‘Newsfeeds’ and ‘Wall’.  Next, select the tab that reads ‘Facebook Ads’. There is a drop-down box, select ‘No One’.  Then SAVE your changes.

This action may help defend your privacy in this single instance, but the need for this message adds fuel to the ongoing debate over the protection of copyright as intellectual property on the internet.  It is especially significant in social media, where so much sharing occurs spontaneously.

Whether you regard your images as your private property or your intellectual property is a moot point.  The problem that both issues highlight is that the internationalisation of web-based media is difficulty of enforcing one country’s law outside its own borders.  That leaves the major internet site owners, software suppliers and internet service providers as the arbiters, not just of ethics, but of justice on the frontiers of Web 2.0.  

Whether they act as ‘warlords’ or ‘sheriffs’ is the question we must ask ourselves.

Facebook’s seemingly unilateral exposure of our private lives comes partly as result of users’ naivety, and partly as a deliberate hands-off policy, of (US-based) Facebook not wanting to act as sheriff in disputes over ‘borrowed’ images.  

The rule has to be: If it’s on Facebook, it is already public.

 This is important now because, although the majority of the New Zealand Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008 No 27 came into force on 31 October 2008 http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2008/0027/latest/DLM1122643.html,

Section 92A (relating to ISP liability) was delayed because of the power it would place in the hands of internet service providers (sheriffs and warlords).  Submissions are still being sought on the proposed policy to address repeat copyright infringement in the digital environment.  We are invited to send our comments to copyrightact@med.govt.nz  by Friday 7 August 2009.  

 New Zealand legislators should think about times when a ‘sheriff’ looks more like a ‘warlord’.  Such an instance was recorded a couple of weeks ago by Canadian blogger, Jesse Hirsch.  Hirsch received a ‘take down’ notice from YouTube regarding a video, posted three years earlier, from RoBTV which has since been rebranded as BNN.  He added that he was not the only one, and that Jason Crocker from the Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights also had some RoBTV/BNN videos pulled from YouTube. 

 Jesse notes: “Jason also did some digging to find that there were dozens of videos from BNN on YouTube and it was just the ones around the copyright issue that had been forcibly removed.”

Jesse Hirsh is an internet strategist, researcher, and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada. 

His views are somewhat balanced by those of Sharon Housley, who manages marketing for the website, FeedForAll.  She says that, in the USA, offering a feed for syndication does not in fact grant any legal rights to anyone to reuse the feeds content beyond what the copyright laws grant as ‘fair use’.  (Commentators suggest that interpretations of ‘fair use’ in a New Zealand business context may differ greatly from those in the US.)

 Housley writes: “In practice, while your feed might legally be protected, you could literally spend weeks attempting to protect the contents of your feed. Legal gray areas are introduced with search engines indexing feeds and RSS Feed Directories including copywritten [copyright protected?] feeds, in their categorized directories.”

She asks: “How do you distinguish between a legitimate search engine, RSS directory and someone simply reproducing the contents of a feed for personal gain?  

 Housley recommends that appropriate credit is given, and that site managers include links back to their website in the item description field, or use teaser copy in the RSS feed's Item description field, linking back to the home website which contains the full contents of the post.

In the UK, the debate has been at least partly guided by the HM Treasury-sponsored Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, published in 2006.  In that report, Andrew Gowers argues that in the modern world, the UK's economic competitiveness is increasingly driven by knowledge-based industries, innovation and creativity. Therefore, said Gowers: “Intellectual Property (IP) - protecting and promoting innovation - has never been more important.” 

 To ensure the correct balance in IP rights the Gower Review recommends:
·                     Ensuring the IP system only proscribes genuinely illegitimate activity, allowing some 'private copying' – E.G. The right of an individual to legally transfer music from CD to their MP3 player; 
                     Enabling access to content for libraries and education establishments,
                     Recommending that the European Commission retains the 50-year-term of copyright protection for sound recordings and related performers' rights.
, here in New Zealand, submissions on Section 92A (relating to ISP liability) of the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008 No 27 must be made to copyrightact@med.govt.nz  by Friday 7 August 2009.  So move quickly if you feel strongly about this.

  by Joseph Peart.   27 July, 2009.