On the 15th of June Mr. Stuchbery posted an article about a graphic novel, Man Hunters published by ACCESS Publishing International, a division of ACCESS Ministries. The original article included several images from the graphic novel and a link to a PDF of the complete article.
On the 17th of June Mr. Stuchbery received a letter from Moores Legal stating that the post of the graphic novel and any part of it was a breach of copyright. The letter demanded the removal of the graphic novel PDF, the deletion of any copies of same, the removal of any images from the PDF and the deletion of the entire article which included this content. The letter, which Mr. Stuchbery posted, included a deadline of 5:00pm on June 22nd.
Mr. Stuchbery complied with the request to remove the PDF and all of the images, except for a single panel. The other panels were replaced with transcripts of the dialogue. He cited the “fair use” (actually it is “fair dealing”) provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 for the purpose of the critique which comprises the remainder of his article.
In spite of this compliance, Mr. Stuchbery’s posting access to his site was disabled by WordPress.com before the deadline set by Moores Legal. This indicates that the purpose of this action is not simply to protect the material published by ACCESS Ministries, but to silence one of their critics. If it were purely concerned with the copyright issue then the deadline would have been honoured, as would the fair dealing provisions of the Copyright Act 1968. Instead moves were made to report Mr. Stuchbery’s site for copyright infringement to his hosting provider before that, the result being suspension of updates well before the deadline. According to Mr. Stuchbery he discovered the suspension more than nine hours prior to the deadline.
This type of use of copyright law by organisations, especially religious organisations, to stifle dissent is nothing new. The Church of Scientology is well practiced at using precisely this tactic to silence their critics and have done so to great effect for many years. Now ACCESS Ministries are taking their turn at using copyright law to censor their opposition. This case is a little different from many of the Scientology ones in one crucial respect; the criticism of ACCESS Ministries and their teaching material does not relate purely to their internal policies and behaviour, as much of the Scientology criticism does, it relates to material used by ACCESS Ministries chaplains in a government funded program for secular schools. As such, criticism of the policy and of any content used in the delivery of that policy should be protected by the implied right to free political speech. This relates to both the High Court rulings regarding freedom of political speech inferred from the Australian Constitution and various international treaties which Australia has ratified, most notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
With this action ACCESS Ministries have proven their complete disregard for the civil rights of those who do not agree with them. They have shown their willingness to resort to any means available to silence any and all opposition and criticism.
Over the course of the better part of the last couple of decades I have developed certain skills which have helped (or tried to help) various friends through the trauma of sexual assault and rape. Most of these skills stem from little things like listening and not judging. Not to mention reigning in the temptation to go off half-cocked, as it were, and form a possé to go rapist hunting. After all, who would that really benefit?
I would like nothing more than to never have the need to use these skills again. That’s why I support SlutWalk, even though I was a little too ill to attend today’s one.
Ross Fitzgerald has an interesting piece in The Australian today on the current state of censorship in Australia; in particular regarding the four inquiries into the classification system. It is definitely worth reading.
Australia’s current laws governing censorship and classification are archaic and byzantine; more often reflecting the views of conservative religious groups than the general populace. Reading some of the comprehensive material on Australian censorship on Irene Graham’s website, Libertus, provides an idea of the extent of this and the conflicts between the federal and state classification systems.
Senator Guy Barnett from Tasmania, the apparent spiritual successor to the notorious Brian Harridine when it comes to censorship, is the driving force behind the current Senate Inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme. The terms of reference for this inquiry indicate a review which will lean towards a conservative finding. For example, one of the earliest points (c), refers to enforcement and reports to law enforcement. Another point (f), refers to “the impact of X18+ films, including their role in the sexual abuse of children;” rather than simply “the impact of X18+ films;” that is what is known as a leading statement. This inquiry wants submissions which cater to the assumptions of Senator Barnett and the pro-censorship lobby, instead of representing the views of all Australians. Still another point (e) is aimed at applying rigorous censorship legislation to all content, including art, presumably in response to the debacle following the suppression of Bill Henson’s exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in 2008. The inquiry is aimed at applying censorship to outdoor advertising (h), music videos (i), song lyrics (j), television (l), the Internet (l) and mobile devices (m), amongst other areas not previously covered or covered by a specific inquiry (o).
The major classification review, though, is the Australian Law Reform Commission‘s National Classification Review, which was announced on the 21st of December last year by the Attorney-General and the Minister for Home Affairs. This one is unlikely to be completed before 2014 and seeks to be the most comprehensive review of Australia’s classification systems in decades.
Meanwhile, Senator Stephen Conroy called for a review of Measures to increase accountability and transparency for Refused Classification material, which he often disingenuously refers to as entirely “illegal material,” as a precursor to introducing mandatory Internet censorship legislation. There may be another review of Refused Classification called for by Senator Conroy this year, following the backlash against the proposed Internet filtering regime during last year’s federal election. This is in addition to his Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s Convergence Review.
The Senate Inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme is due to report on the 30th of June and the deadline for submissions is the 4th of March. The Measures to increase accountability and transparency for Refused Classification material review closed its submission date last year. The close of submissions for the Convergence Review was the 28th of January. While dates for the ALRC’s National Classification Review and Senator Conroy’s second Refused Classification review are presently unavailable.
This is all, of course, in addition to the Attorney-General’s inquiries into An R18+ Classification for Computer Games, the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Assessments and Advertising) Act 2008, the Classification (Authorised Television Series Assessor Scheme) Determination 2008, the Classification (Advertising of Unclassified Films and Computer Games Scheme) Determination 2009 and other aspects of Classification policy.
A citizen could be forgiven for thinking that the complexity and number of the reviews was aimed at stifling opposition to the agenda of censorship which currently runs rampant through Australian politics.
Most political parties in Australia have varying degrees of policy in favour of censorship, of which the most well known is the Australian Labor Party’s mandatory Internet filter. Of the currently registered parties opposing censorship, there is only the Australian Sex Party. The fledgling Pirate Party Australia is still seeking to join the fray. Like the Sex Party before it, the Pirate Party has encountered some difficulties with the registration process. Although not as anti-censorship on a policy level as the Sex Party or the Pirate Party, which both promote civil liberties in Australia, the Australian Greens have been vocal in their opposition to Internet censorship. The work of Senator Scott Ludlum has been considerable in this area.
One of the reasons why Australia has been able to maintain a thorough regime of censorship in comparison to most, if not all, other liberal democracies in the world is due to the lack of constitutionally guaranteed rights. There is no guarantee to freedom of speech, privacy or other rights which are frequently taken for granted in other countries. The only constitutional guarantee is that there not be a state sanctioned religion. There is privacy legislation and there have been High Court rulings on an implied right to political speech as necessary for a free and functioning democracy, but these things can be overturned by passing relevant legislation to do so.
Australia has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but made sure to include exceptions on Article 19. Even so, that and similar exceptions did not prevent the Australia’s treaty obligations from being used to overturn Tasmania’s anti-homosexuality legislation in the 1990s. It also hasn’t prevented the the United Nations Human Rights Council from publishing a draft review of Australia’s need for continued work to improve human rights for Australians, especially indigenous Australians and women. A number of countries have recommended constitutional reform, possibly including a Bill of Rights, in particular: Sweden, Hungary, Russia, Germany, Timor-Leste, Bosnia and Herzegovina. There were additional calls for other strengthening of human rights and civil liberties, including Australia signing and ratifying several treaties, which requires appropriate changes to legislation to meet the requirements of those treaties.
There’s clearly a long way to go in Australia on addressing issues of general human rights and civil liberties, let alone the more specific issue of censorship. One thing to remember, though, wide ranging censorship and a lack of freedom of expression makes the work on other human rights issues far more difficult.
Five people have been arrested in England for their roles in the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks performed by the group calling itself Anonymous, claiming to be defending WikiLeaks and retaliating over the arrest of Julian Assange.
Initially this group formed to protest the activities of the Church of Scientology, both online and offline. They opposed the authoritarian protocols and abuses of Scientology. Seeing some success there, they have moved on to opposing what they view as tyrannical censorship in other realms. In 2009 the target of their ire was the Australian Federal Government over the proposal to introduce mandatory Internet censorship in Australia.
So where is the problem? The problem lies in the hypocrisy of their tactics. A DDoS is nothing if not a tool of censorship, it prevents the free flow of information. The simple fact is that Anonymous are pathetically trying to enforce their own authority on everyone else and are doing so by using the same tactics as those they profess to oppose.
When Anonymous launched a DDoS against Australian Government servers in September of 2009, they did not prevent the Parliament from continuing to work on legislation and policy, including continued work on the censorship proposal. They did, however, risk associating their childish tactics with the work of others seeking to oppose that censorship in a more reasonable and open manner. They also prevented some people seeking information about the censorship proposal in order to rebut it. I know this because I was one of the campaigners whose research efforts were hampered by those attacks. Fortunately enough anti-censorship campaigners, particularly from the EFA, condemned the attacks quickly enough that Senator Conroy was unable to use the attacks as ammunition against the campaign against censorship. Still, there was a risk that that could have happened.
Now Anonymous have turned their attention to acting in the name of WikiLeaks and launching similar attacks against any organisation which has opposed, harmed or withdrawn support (usually of a commercial nature) from WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. They have even gone so far as to say that “Julian Assange deifies everything we hold dear.” In their eyes Assange can never, under any circumstances do or be wrong and that this is their holy crusade. Now what could possibly go wrong there?
Unsurprisingly their targets in this crusade have chosen to fight back. When commercial juggernauts like Mastercard and Visa are attacked they will retaliate with the full force of the law and indeed they have. This is not something which Anonymous have seen before and as they have not really lived up to their name, their attacks being launched by an application run on the PCs of participants, rather than using remotely controlled botnets, they have been caught. Anonymous are not nearly as clever and as powerful as they have deluded themselves into believing and now their members are beginning to pay the price for this. They have been behaving like children throwing a tantrum in an adult world and now they are going to be spanked.
Meanwhile those of us who promote and work for civil liberties around the globe in a way which does not impinge upon the freedom of our opponents will continue as we have always done. We will not miss the distractions of brats like Anonymous. Except, of course, that they’re not just going to go away after a handful of arrests. No doubt the arrests will scare some of them off, but others will want to fight back more. They will view these arrests as tyrannical oppression, rather than seeing it as an obvious consequence of attempting their own censorship regime.
Now, I suppose, it is my turn to find out whether Anonymous are willing to accept criticism online or whether I will find my own server crippled by retaliation for writing this. Well, I believe we should all be free to express our opinions so I hope that will be reciprocated and that any criticism comes in the form of comments rather than a denial of service attack.