US looks to be master of Aussie IP

iPod ban part of free trade?

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Australia has edged closer to embracing some of the least favorable aspects of US intellectual property law, including the DMCA, by agreeing to a trade agreement between the two countries.

Aussie Prime Minister John Howard and US President George Bush today promoted the free trade pact that will remove tariffs on a number of goods, affecting sales of manufactured products, medicine, film and television and intellectual property Down Under. The IP issue is of particular concern to some technophiles who do not want Australia to be restricted by the DMCA, which is basically what the agreement requires. It is, however, the pharmaceutical and media issues that appear to have Australian legislators more concerned than the IP measures.

Legislation to push the trade agreement through has already been passed in the lower house of Australia's parliament, but a battle is taking place in the upper house Senate. More radical labor types are concerned that the deal will raise drug prices by hampering a state-subsidized drug provider program and also fear that Australian television and radio companies will struggle to compete against US firms. The Labor party has proposed amendments to both of those items even though leader Mark Latham says the agreement is overall a good thing. PM Howard has agreed to look at the broadcasting issues but will not budge on the pharmas.

Bush has already signed legislation to put the agreement into effect, and both the US Senate and House of Representatives approved the deal in July.

Technophiles, however, are upset over provisions in the trade deal that require Australia to recognize US software patents and to extend the amount of time copyrights remain enforceable. In addition, Aussies must agree to large chunks of the DMCA.

Aussies must block any party that "manufactures, imports, distributes, offers to the public, provides, or otherwise traffics in devices, products, or components, or offers to the public, or provides services that: are promoted, advertised, or marketed for the purpose of circumvention of any effective technological measure; have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent any effective technological measure; or are primarily designed, produced, or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of any effective technological measure."

IPod, we're looking at you.

Open source advocates and computer scientists also fear the wrath of these IP provisions and have posted an interesting paper here. One of their concerns is that the free trade agreement essentially nullifies existing legislation that is not as dramatic as the DMCA and that is currently under review by the government.

All told, Australia expects to save billions via the free trade pact and do more trading with the US, according to advocates of the legislation. ®

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