Linux Australia has published
the first draft of their position paper on US – Australia “Free” Trade Agreement and Open Source
This talks about some of the possible chilling effects of the AU-US “Free” Trade Agreement, including many interesting things such as the fact it will prevent Australian consumers from buying DVDs from the US by making it illegal to use a region free DVD player, not what I’d call helping free trade.
There is also a warning on the introduction of software patents through this (although they may already be possible under current statutory instruments) including the fact that had Dan Bricklan been able to patent Visicalc in 1979 then any future spreadsheets until 1999 would have been illegal or required a license from Visicalc. Of course, as we’ve seen in lots of other areas, where there is a monopoly it’s not the market that gets to set the price for such things..
Here is a really illuminating, unambiguous warning on all of this from Bill Gates:
If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.
And one final, rather chilling, warning from the paper.
Note that the US has constitutional protections which limit these laws when they conflict with “freedom of speech”. Australia has no such limits.
How to Help
If this worries you (and believe me, it should), then please write a letter to your elected representatives, in your own words, telling them why you oppose this. Give reasons for why you think this will be a bad thing for Australia.
Sign the online petition. I’m not a big believer in such things, but if you do write to your representatives then sign this and say that you’ve done so.
Read the Linux Australia FTA page and use some of their suggestions to.
Spread the word! Link to stories like these on your sites, write blog entries about it, spread the word. Democracy can only really function when people know what some of the issues are. Research other effects that haven’t been considered yet. Will Apple iPod’s become illegal because you are not currently legally allowed to rip songs from CD’s you own for your personal use ? etc..