Lara Bingle and the cost of privacy

photographerMy colleagues at the Law School have just written an interesting analysis of the Lara Bingle nude photo case. They think she doesn’t have a strong legal case based on either privacy law or defamation law. Lara appears to be earning a tidy sum from the publicity generated, so I suppose its not an entirely bad strategy. The Bingle incident is one of an increasing number of clashes among conflicting goals to maintain privacy, copyright protection, and freedom. It is tempting to blame the technology (cellphones, cameras, iphones, etc.), and to suggest that people should not be allowed to take photographs or videos unless permitted. Countries like the UK and USA now have strict but vague rules on what you can photograph. The problem is that it is difficult to articulate what these parameters would be in a way that is generally acceptable. This creates high enforcement costs and generates unfortunate incidents where people are stopped for doing seemingly legitimate things. Blanket bans do not work well and lead to a climate of censorship and fear. Instead of focusing on the creation of images, a better solution is to concentrate on managing how images are used. Allow people to take photos and videos unfettered. There are so many photos and videos being taken these days that most of these will never see the light of day anyways. Meanwhile establish clearer guidelines on what kinds of images may not be used for various applications: the arts, news, online blogs, commercial advertising and education (also, in each case be clear whether permission is needed from those in the image). While this suggestion may not entirely solve the problem, it will at least take us partways there. Social and legal systems have some ways to go before catching up with the reality of living in a media-rich world.

Internet Sales and Copyright

Last month, CMCL and IPRIA organized an event to discuss whether internet service providers should be responsible when their customers upload/download illegal material. I wasn’t able to attend, but Sarah Berriman, one of my young and energetic students, did. She wrote to me expressing how a ‘generation gap’ exists in the way the music industry perceives its customers.

The main points made by each speaker were interesting, but also not unexpected. There seems to be a disconnect between the copyright holders and their customers.  They don’t seem able to adapt to the needs and desires of the current generation, and it is a mystery to many why this should be.  It is not as though broad and expensive market research is required to tell them this: the cinema is perceived as poor value for money.  People like convenience, and having things when they want and how they want.  Is it really such a leap to move to simultaneous international online sales?  Is copyright the issue here, or the protection of an outdated business model?  Perhaps it is time infringers were offered a carrot, instead of perennially getting the stick. [reproduced with permission from Sarah Berriman, Medical Student, Melbourne University]

Today I received a stack of books from amazon.com. They were shipped all the way across the world from Kentucky in the United States. And no less by the same company that refuses to sell me the very same books as electronic downloads because we are outside the United States. I am glad I’m young enough to fall into the same side of the generation divide as Sarah.