Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The implications of the Ice TV High Court decision for government data

I've had a long time interest in Ice TV. In fact about five years ago I was considering investing in the company, or encouraging my then employer (ActewAGL/TransACT) to invest in it as an extension to their cableTV service.

For anyone unaware of the company, they sell electronic program guides (EPGs) for free-to-air channels for use in Digital Video Recorders (DVRs).

The EPGs are used by DVR systems to allow people to 'set and forget' record their favourite shows for later viewing - such that the DVR records the shows every week, regardless of whether the TV channels move the timeslots around.

Ice TV didn't simply rip off TV guides from the newspaper however, they had people watch the TV channels and record program names and times - then filled the gaps with information from existing program guides.

Ice TV has been involved in a several year legal battle with Channel 9, who claimed they held copyright over their program guide and even the small bits that Ice TV was using to fill gaps was a breach of their copyright over the literary work that was their program guide.

After years of litigation, the High Court has ruled that Channel 9 did not own copyright over program guides - because the information could realistically only be presented in one way... The time, then the program name.

Whilst not a legal expert, I foresee that this may have major implications for many pieces of information government in Australia creates. For instance copyright protection may be void for rail, bus and ferry timetables, tables of basic data (such as this electorate list on the CSA website) and most, if not all, of the data released by the ABS online (which is largely under Creative Commons licenses anyway).

Taking the High Court ruling, as this government data can realistically only be portrayed in one way (Name, Data), it is no longer protected under Australian copyright laws.

This counterdicts the actions by NSW RailCorp to prevent republishing of rail timetables in mobile applications (which the NSW government has already forced them to back down on), and probably some similar activities elsewhere in Australia.

This also impacts the business sector - data in annual reports, tidal charts, exchange rates, and much more are now, under the High Court ruling, probably not covered under our copyright laws.

I'm interesting to see how this will be used by free data advocates - and what the legal responses will be.

The transcript of the Radio National discussion this High Court judgement is at The Law Report - Ice TV.

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