It’s never too late to discover a government inquiry (at least before the legislation comes through)!

Back in December, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy announced a Convergence Review.

Media Release, draft Terms of Reference and “home page“.

Given its departmental provenance and some of the discussion in the Background Paper, it might be thought the Review is mainly targeted at the Telco Act, the Radiocommunications Act and the Communications/Media regulator.  There are some interesting straws in the wind for IP however:

First, the first draft term of reference:

In light of convergence, the Committee is to review the current policy framework for the production and delivery of media content and communications services. The Committee is to:
  1. develop advice for Government on the appropriate policy framework for a converged environment;
  2. advise on ways of achieving it, including implementation options and timeframes where appropriate; and
  3. advise on the potential impact of reform options on industry, consumers and the community.

(my emphasis).

In the Background Paper, there are also some interesting IP-related aspects:

So, at pp. 14-15:

Another trend affecting business models is the trend towards the ‘granular’ nature of media consumption; for example consumers can now download songs, not albums; watch specific TV shows on demand and not the linear programming of a channel, and read a single news article through an online search engine, rather than purchase and read the day’s newspaper edition. In the online world the consumer is in the driving seat of their own media and entertainment consumption patterns with more choice and control than ever before. In addition to the rise of competing online platforms and fragmentation of the consumer market, another challenge to established business models is that digital revenues are not yet matching analog ones. In 2008, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker famously stated that media companies should not ‘trade analog dollars for digital pennies’24. By 2009, he quipped that this may have increased to ’digital dimes’25. While online revenues are growing and the gap is reportedly closing26, ensuring ongoing investment while balancing the difference between analog dollars and digital cents presents challenges to established media companies.

On p. 16 under the heading ‘Policy settings that encourage Australian, local, and children’s content’, the discussion about Australian content quotas imposed on tv and radio, ends:

The rise of these alternative audiovisual services and the growing fragmentation of the media market raises questions as to appropriate policy settings to ensure the ongoing production and distribution of Australian media content which reflects and contributes to the development of national and cultural identity.

(Their emphasis)

And, of course, the paranoid among you out there in cyberspace, will no doubt recall the rather cavalier treatment (e.g. here and here) meted out to iiNet before it won the (first round of) the Roadshow case.

Now, you could have fun (and spend lots longer than a year) on this: e.g. Prof Gans lambasts the authors (and, I guess, indirectly the other copyright owners who have similar ideas), but (for balance) also the App Store and, of course, until the Floods came, we were all twisted up with Gerry Harvey wondering if putting a GST on online purchases (overseas) will change the fact that you can often buy things online from overseas for prices 30-40% less than in stores here. Assuming of course you can “buy”: compare the tv shows or movies or books in the iTunes store or on Kindle or audible from Australia to what you can get with a US address, maybe. Somehow, I have avoided mentioning Google so far. Wonder how many examples the Review will come up with which lead to peeling back regulation?

Now, the time for commenting on the draft Terms of Reference closed on 28 January, so the scope of the review may become clearer. Then, there will be an independent committee to conduct the review, with their report scheduled for 1st quarter 2012.

One to watch!

Lid dip: Mary Wyburn