What am I reading today? 15 July 2017

Shelves of books in Stockholm library
What am I reading today?
Here are some of the stories that caught my attention in the past 6 weeks or so:

Intellectual Property

The Federal Court of Canada has ruled that Access Copyright is entitled to collect royalties from York University for its staff’s and students’ copying of articles and other materials used in “coursepacks” and learning management systems. The University had argued that its copying was fair dealing under the Copyright Act (RSC 1985, c C-42). Commentator Michael Geist offers a scathing review (http://www.michaelgeist.ca/2017/07/ignoring-supreme-court-trial-judge-hands-access-copyright-fair-dealing-victory/) of the decision, saying it ignores the Supreme Court of Canada’s copyright decisions; while commentary from other firms including Bereskin & Parr are more neutral (http://www.bereskinparr.com/Doc/id956). This decision seems ripe for an appeal.

On 26 May 2017, the Full Federal Court found that a trade mark application must be made in the true owner’s name, and a later assignment from an applicant to the true owner cannot correct any defect in ownership. See Pham Global Pty Ltd v Insight Clinical Imaging Pty Ltd (http://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judgments/fca/full/2017/2017fcafc0083). This overturns the previous Australian law position about ownership of a trade mark application. However, the Insight decision means that the ownership requirement for trade mark applications is different to that of registered designs and patents.

Data privacy & policy

After the Guardian reported a darknet trader is illegally selling on-demand Medicare patient details, the Australian government announced a security review into the accessibility of Medicare’s online system. The review will be led by Prof Peter Shergold, with the report due by 30 September 2017.

Continuing the Australian government’s anti-encryption rhetoric, PM Malcolm Turnbull and Senator George Brandis have said that by year-end, the Australian government would introduce draft legislation seeking to force tech companies to decrypt end-to-end encrypted messages in real-time; compell device manufacturers to help authorities break into devices they sell; and give the Australian Federal Police an authority to “remotely monitor computer networks and devices” (this is currently limited to ASIO).

The Age’s Tony Wright comments on a new book from David Dufty, “The Secret Code-Breakers of Central Bureau: How Australia’s signals intelligence network helped win the Pacific War”, about Australia’s WWII signals intelligence and code-breaking operations at the Monterey building in Melbourne – a local version of the UK’s Bletchley Park.

What am I reading today? 2 July 2017

Shelves of books in Stockholm library
What am I reading today?
Here are some of the stories that caught my attention in the past 6 weeks or so:

Data privacy & policy

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and Senator George Brandis are reportedly looking at changing Australian laws (News) to force telecommunications and technology firms to help authorities decrypt suspect messages , including by sanctioning providers who do not comply with requests (Guardian).

Brandis took his message of banning working cryptography (Boing Boing) to the “Five Eyes” meeting in Ottawa this past week, where the delegates agreed to engage with industry on terrorists’ use of encryption (Globe and Mail). 

Google wants to make it easy for law enforcement to access user data overseas (Reuters), just as the [US] Department of Justice threatens to take the Microsoft email warrant fight to the US Supreme Court (Gizmodo).

From 1 July air travelers no longer need to fill out a departure card (Traveller) before leaving Australia. This is a consequence of the Government’s changes to Australia’s international airports (SMH). 

Copyright

The Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017 to implement Australia’s obligations under the Marrakesh Treaty (WIPO) received royal assent on 22 June 2017. Among other changes, this will create a new “fair dealing” exception to allow other people to help people living with disabilities by creating and sharing accessible versions of books and other materials in braille, large print or DAISY audio formats. When I last checked in mid-June, 28 countries had ratified the Marrakesh Treaty.

WikiMedia continues to campaign to bring fair use to Australian copyright law (WikiMedia).

In May, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed (Lexum) to hear an appeal of a case that could alter Canada’s interprovincial trade laws (Globe). In 2012 a New Brunswick man, Gérard Comeau, visited neighbouring Quebec and bought 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor. On his return to New Brunswick, the RCMP fined him almost C$300 for exceeding the import limit on beer and liquor from another province. He fought the fine, and both the trial court and NB Court of Appeal favoured  Mr. Comeau’s arguments that the Constitution Act 1867 had mandated free trade among the Canadian provinces. The tentative hearing date is 7 December 2017 (Lexum).

Technology

The Department of Communications has recently consulted on the proposed civil penalty regime for non-consensual sharing of intimate images (DoC). Submissions closed on 30 June.

This week’s Petya/GoldenEye ransomware attack started in the Ukraine, and also hit Australian businesses including Cadbury (ABC). And Victoria Police now say that WannaCry may have disabled all Victorian speed cameras (iTn) after the contract operator’s maintenance tech connected an infected USB key to a computer on the camera network. The original report was that 55 cameras had been infected. 

A Sydney man had an Opal card implanted into hand (ABC) to paying for public transport easier. How’s that for tap-and-go.

Internet, Broadband and Telecommunications

Australia’s “Netflix” tax – extending the 10% GST to digital content such as streaming, online video, games, apps and e-books – went into effect this week. In addition, Netflix decided to lift some of its prices also by 10%, so that the top-end Netflix package now costs Aussie consumers $17.99 including GST (SMH).

In mid-May 2017, the EU Commission fined Facebook €110 million for providing misleading information during the Commission’s 2014 merger regulation investigation into the WhatsApp takeover (Europa). Then in June, the EU fined  Google a record €2.42 billion (BBC) for manipulating search results to promote its online shopping service.
 
Back in Oz, the Department of Communications has started public consultation on telecommunications carrier powers and immunities (DoC) http://www.minister.communications.gov.au/mitch_fifield/news/public_consultation_on_telecommunications_carrier_powers_and_immunities

Australia’s “Amazon.com” tax

The Australian Treasurer recently announced that Australian State and Territory treasurers have agreed the GST should apply to cover online transactions where overseas suppliers sell goods under AU$1,000 to Australian consumers. Call it the “Amazon.com tax”?

Australia Post delivery van
Australia Post delivery van (by OSX (own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
This mirrors the recent proposal to apply GST to supplies of digital products and services from overseas providers to Australian consumers, the so-called “Netflix tax” (see my previous post).

Why?

In Government speak, the change would “promote greater integrity in the tax system” and to help to “level the playing field” for Australian retailers.

How would this be done?

The proposed approach for collecting the GST on imported goods is to reduce or remove the “low value importation threshold” for goods from its current level of A$1000 to say, A$20 or even zero.

Also to rely on overseas suppliers registering for, collecting and remitting the Australian GST. Presumably the latter requirement is aimed at minimising the compliance costs for collecting the GST on these imported goods.

When would this happen?

The Government has yet to release any draft legislation, but the Treasurer’s announcement indicated the new GST arrangements would start from 1 July 2017 (which would match the expected start date for proposed changes to inbound digital supplies), or possibly sooner.

What should overseas suppliers do?

Overseas suppliers who have Australian turnover over A$75,000 or more would need to register for and charge Australian GST (currently 10%, but could rise to say 15%).

For the moment, these suppliers should (if not already) change their sales terms to allow them to “gross up” the purchase price by an additional amount on account of Australian GST. This would align with the usual contractual practice for GST on onshore sales.

Of course, until we see the draft legislation a number of questions will remain unanswered. Some of these are:

  • Will an overseas supplier who sells through a shared platform (e.g. Amazon.com) need to register for Australian GST, or will that privilege fall to Amazon itself?
  • What “supplies” (in GST language) will go towards the AU$75,000 registration threshold?
  • How will an overseas supplier work out the customs value (or “CIF value”) of their goods, in order to charge collect and remit the correct amount of GST?

My 2 cents worth

On the one hand, I hope this change (presuming it goes through) meets the revenue forecast so that the Government can pay for personal and business tax cuts elsewhere. But I doubt it will play out that way.

This move smacks of pandering to big industry players. That is to say, I cannot recall buying anything online in order to save a merely 10-15%, as the savings are usually much higher.

Perhaps worse, this change would do nothing to motivate Australian onshore sellers to improve their game.

Presumably this change, if it is implemented by reducing or removing the low-value importation threshold, would also mean that Australians who travel overseas and return with new purchases might also need to pay GST on those purchases. (For the moment, let’s leave aside the question of whether the goods purchased overseas have become the shopper’s domestic property at the time they are brought into Australia.)

What do you think? Would needing to pay an extra 10% change your buying behaviour?

Australia’s “Netflix” tax

Taxes signpost
Recently the Australian treasurer Joe Hockey announced that the Australian Government is considering extending the Goods and Services Tax to also cover intangible services such as internet streaming (eg Netflix), music downloads (eg iTunes) and e-books (eg Kobo and Amazon) that are sold into Australia. This could make buying online services 10% more expensive.

Generally, no GST is payable on sales other than goods or real property by overseas sellers to Australian to private buyers. But if the Government’s proposed “Netflix tax” becomes law, GST would apply to overseas sellers’ “supplies” of music or video streaming and downloads (or the legit/legal ones, at least!) and other internet-delivered services to Aussie consumers.

Why do this? The Treasurer says that this is an “integrity measure” for Australia’s tax base, and in line with the OECD position that that GST should be charged at the source regardless of where the supplier is based. Other proposals we’ve heard include raising the GST rate (currently 10%) or lowering the low-value threshold for imported goods (currently AU$1,000) but these might be more politically challenging or simply cost too much.

What would this mean?
For consumers – The price you pay for streaming services and downloads could go up by as much as 10%. And while I can’t recall hearing anyone specifically naming Apple’s AppStore or Google Play in this context, I see no reason app sales or even cloud-based services would be excluded.

For off-shore sellers – There would be many practical problems in trying to collect GST from an overseas seller, though arguably this might be easier if you sell through a centralised online middle-man like a Google Play or Apple’s AppStore, or somehow the tax gets collected from the customer directly. But generally as a seller you could be required to remit GST from your sales to Australian customers. So unless you agree to give up 10% of your selling price from Aussie customers you might think about adding a GST “gross-up” clause to your sales contracts, to allow you to collect an additional amount for GST from your customers. As always, consult a lawyer 🙂

Anna’s review of our Chicago trip – December 10-14, 2014

chicago-skyline-night

Where did you stay?

We recently visited Chicago as a four-day stopover before heading to Toronto. Chicago is a great city with many historical sites, great restaurants and of course, shopping! I recommend staying near the Magnificent Mile because most of the interesting sites were within an easy walking distance.

What did you do?

We spent 4 nights in Chicago and spent the majority of our time in the city. The key sites we saw were Cloudgate and the Crown Fountain during a chilly walk around Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, enjoyed spiced cider at the Christkindlmarket (a German Christmas market) and dinner at the famous Gibson’s steakhouse.

A suggestion about Gibson’s – Go with an empty stomach because the portions are huge!

On our last day, we took the train to Oak Park where Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chicago home and studio is located.  While I didn’t particularly love all of Wright’s designs for his home (too dark and closed-in for me) the bright, airy studio and surrounding neighbourhood made the trip.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Oak Park home & studio     Frank Lloyd Wright - Unitarian Church interior

Highlight

Food! We went to a number of great restaurants. A standout restaurant for me was Avec restaurant just outside the Chicago CBD. They serve a Mediterranean rustic menu in tapas style on small plates for enjoying yourself or sharing among your group. It’s very busy and noisy but oh! do they serve great food. They don’t accept reservations but you can show up, get on the waiting list and then find a drink at a nearby bar.

Lowlight

Cold, grey weather! As a Canadian I should be ashamed of complaining about the cold weather since it is supposed to be in my blood and all. I can tell you that I found it difficult to deal with the overcast and grey days with limited sunlight. Brisbane has completely spoiled me.

Interesting fact

The Art Institute of Chicago holds the largest collection of Impressionist paintings outside The Louvre in Paris.

How to get there

From Brisbane you can take Virgin Australia to Los Angeles (approximately 12.5 hours), and then Virgin America or another US airline on to Chicago (approx 4-4.5 hours).

If you are interested in great food, architecture and culture, Chicago is fantastic city to visit. I would visit again in a heartbeat!

G’day, eh? We are Aussies – January 26, 2015

It’s official, today we are Aussies! This morning Anna and I joined 620 new citizens to take the Australian citizenship pledge at Brisbane City Hall.

Play the slide show

Do we now speak with perfect Aussie twang, enjoy the taste of Vegemite or magically understand the rules of cricket? Uh, no – and especially not the cricket!

After the ceremony, we enjoyed a fabulous lunch with great Aussie friends. Thanks to Fiona for putting on lunch, and to Fiona, Kate, Terri, Kaelene and Sharon for the Aussie welcome and laughs.

What’s next? Perhaps we should learn the lyrics to the Australian national anthem. Anyone know whether is the “national anthem of STRAYA” or “Advance Australia Fair“?

Oh yeah, and there is an election on in Queensland next Saturday – voting compulsory.