[Linux-aus] President's Report, June / July 2006

Jonathan Oxer president at linux.org.au
Thu Jul 6 11:56:01 UTC 2006

Hi LA!

Unfortunately I totally missed doing a report for June so this time you
get a double-whammy. Things have been incredibly busy both for LA and me
personally and I apologise that I haven't been very visible.

Right up front I want to publicly recognise the efforts of a couple of
people in particular: the admin team who pulled together the
infrastructure for Rusty's "live podcast" Q&A session in record time,
and Janet Hawtin who has been a whirlwind of activity on the Committee
after stepping in on behalf of Leon. More details in a moment!

= Recent Events
Before I get into the various specific reports I want to highlight the
big hot topic at the moment: Australia's obligations to alter our
intellectual-property laws in accordance with the requirements of the
AUS-US Free Trade Agreement. Many of you will already be very familiar
with this topic but I'll provide some background that may be helpful
when trying to explain it to other people.

The majority of the AUS-US FTA (one of many Free Trade Agreements, but
from now on I'll just call it "the FTA") came into force at the start of
2005. The exception was a particular section dealing with alterations to
copyright legislation which was given a 2 year moratorium, requiring
Australia to enact certain legislation by January 1st 2007 to meet our
obligations under the FTA. That section is basically a word-for-word
copy of America's Digital Millenium Copyright Act, or DMCA, which was
enacted in 1998 and has been causing havoc for US businesses ever since.

The DMCA, when combined with DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology,
puts an enormous amount of power in the hands of certain groups that
Rusty calls "The Big M's: Movies, Music, Media, and Microsoft". It's a
big, complicated topic but the essence is that it's not just about
protecting copyright: it's about protecting devices that protect
copyright, and allowing copyright owners to control how you interact
with their copyright material.

That sounds like a small distinction but the implications are enormous.
It means that even activities that a reasonable person would consider to
be legitimate may become criminal offenses, even when the activity has
absolutely nothing to do with breaching copyright as such.

One example that Janet Hawtin raised is a car with a computerised
electronic ignition system breaking down on the Birdsville Track. The
manufacturer of the car may stipulate that only they are allowed to
"interact" with the ignition system, giving them a monopoly on repairs
or replacement. If you attempt to fix the ignition system yourself you
could be liable for civil action because they own the copyright on the
design of the system, and you are not authorised to interact with it in
any way. And if you find a local bush mechanic and pay him to get your
car going again so you can make it back to civilisation, that mechanic
would be open to not just civil but criminal prosecution because they
interacted with copyright material in a non-authorised manner for
profit. The mechanic wasn't breaching the copyright of the ignition
system design by making copies and selling them: s/he was merely
interacting with it in a way the copyright owner didn't approve of.

That also means that creating interoperable software could become a
really big problem, and an example close to all our hearts is Samba. If
you think about the purpose of file sharing on a network it's all about
providing and/or restricting access to content, ie: copyright material.
That makes a Windows file server a "technical protection measure" (TPM)
implementing "digital rights management" (DRM) for the copyright
material stored on it, as well as the copyright on the software itself.
OK, fine so far - but under the potential new laws Microsoft would be
able to stipulate what they consider "authorised interaction" with their
system. And guess what? They could stipulate that only Microsoft servers
are authorised to interact with Microsoft servers. Boom, there goes our
right to run Samba servers on a Windows network, and in fact the
developers of Samba could be liable for jail time if they profited in
some way from its development.

This highlights the real problem with the laws: it gives copyright
holders the right not only to control what you do with their copyright
material and how you interact with it, but that can be leveraged to
control what you are allowed to do with other material that they have no
rights over whatsoever. Microsoft don't hold the copyright to Samba, but
these laws could allow them to control what Samba is used for.

The whole situation is a farce, but it's a dangerous farce that we need
to make sure doesn't come back to bite us after January 1st 2007.

Luckily there is a way out. We're obliged to enact legislation in
accordance with the FTA: there's no way out of that, it's a done deal.
But there are options in terms of the way the legislation can be
drafted. The biggest opportunity that has been discussed so far involves
making sure the legislation is drafted to include a definition for
"circumvention" that ties it to a nefarious act, ie: a wilful breach of
copyright. That way it would be legal to deploy Samba on a Windows
network if it was merely being used for interoperability, not being used
explicitly to breach copyright. It would focus the law on preventing
activity considered harmful rather than preventing *all* activity unless
explicitly allowed. What we want is an "innocent until proven guilty"
approach, not a "guilty until proven innocent" approach as has been done
in the US with the DMCA.

There has been a big push in the US to remove many of the restrictions
of the DMCA because since its legislation in October 1998 they've found
it to have a very negative effect on competition and innovation, but
they're stuck with it largely because they have so many Free Trade
Agreements in place. They've forced other countries to adopt similar
laws through FTAs, and now they've been caught in their own net and
can't get out of it even though they've since realised the DMCA was a
stupid idea. The sad thing is that now, after it's been proven to be a
stupid idea during nearly 7 years of use in the US, we're actually on
the verge of implementing it ourselves. It's like two people standing on
a bridge and making a pact that they'll both jump off into the water
because it'll be really fun and make a big splash, and after the first
one jumps off and unexpectedly hits a submerged log and dies the second
one jumps off anyway because they'd made the pact to do it.

Australia is standing on that bridge right now, about to jump off after
the US on the basis of the FTA pact. The fact is that we have to jump
because we're obligated to do so by the FTA, but we have the opportunity
to decide to jump just a little bit to one side now we know the
submerged log is there thanks to the US discovering it the hard way.

What can we do? We need to make sure that the Attorney General, Philip
Ruddock, is aware of the danger of blindly following the US down the
DMCA path, and drafts the legislation in such a way "circumvention" is
defined as a nefarious act. Rusty and I drafted a letter to Mr Ruddock
which was sent off at the start of the week and has been posted on the
LA site. Unfortunately there was a bit of a timing stuff-up and the
letter was made public before the Attorney General's office had actually
received it, which led to much head-scratching when they were
subsequently questioned about it and resulted in articles like this:


That was a big mistake and I apologise that it occured: I should have
specifically embargoed release of the letter until I had confirmed that
it had been received by the Attorney General. Oh well, we'll know better
next time.

I've only scratched the surface of the issue here. There's much more to
learn, and Rusty Russell did a very cool "live podcast" on June 16th
with questions submitted to him via IRC while he answered via audio
stream. The event lasted about an hour and was facilitated by James
Purser, LA's podcasting guru, and attracted more than 60 people on IRC
during the event and has been downloaded by many more since. For more
background to the issues involved you can grab a recording from the


There are also Torrent seeds for the recording:


And you can view Rusty's slides online:


Last night I was a guest on RRR's "Byte Into IT" program with Phil Wales
and Ed Borland (thanks guys!) and had the opportunity to talk about the
DMCA issue at some length. I was exhausted leading into the interview
and I haven't listened to it myself yet so I don't know if I made any
sense at all, but there will soon be an MP3 available to download from
the Byte Into It page:


Rusty has been running around various LUGs doing presentations on the
problem, as well as presenting at the "Unlocking IP" conference in
Sydney on Monday. Other participants in the conference included FOSS
identities Kim Weatherall and Brendan Scott. If you have an opportunity
to hear Rusty speak about it make sure you do so.

And finally, sign the (com-)petition. There is a link to the petition
plus other resources at:


The person who collects the most (legitimate!) signatures wins a free
trip to LCA next year, so print out the petition and start working the

= Project Sub-Committees
* linux.conf.au 2007
The CFP is open! As has been blogged and announced in various places the
Seven team have opened the Call For Papers^WParticipation. The reason
it's called a "Call For Participation" this year is that it's more than
just papers: the miniconf program is also being supported directly
through the event management infrastructure this year with far more
integration than has been provided in the past, including a predefined
miniconf schedule with synchronised timetables and more exposure in the

So if you have an idea for a presentation, a tutorial or a miniconf
please go to the LCA2007 site and click the big shiny button. You know
you want to:


* Education
Linux Australia had an extremely successful presence at the Education
Expo in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. Pia has already sent a detailed
report to the linux-aus list so I won't repeat it all here, but the
upshot is that a huge number of teachers, students and parents were
exposed to the whole concept of FOSS in a very positive way. A bunch of
volunteers helped Pia with the stand, including Sara and Mohammad Kaan,
Steve Walsh, Craige McWhirter, Sridhar Dhanapalan, Stuart Rushton, Terry
Dawson, Bruce Badger, Lindsay Holmwood and Julia, Grant Parnell, Andreas
Fischer, and Bec Dorries and Neil. Thankyou to everyone involved, you're
a credit to us all and you did a fantastic job of raising awareness of
FOSS in a critical sector of the community.

Pia's report is in the archives in case you missed it the first time:


* Advocacy
Nothing to report.

* Media
Nothing to report.

= Administrative Sub-Committees
* Mirror
It's not up yet (and in fact I've only just notified the mirror team
that it exists!) but Jason King has created a very nifty live-DVD which
contains the English version of Wikipedia plus many of the images. It's
based on Knoppix and allows you to boot up a machine from the DVD and
have a Wikipedia terminal. The ISO image is huge but it sounds like just
the sort of thing that should go on our high-bandwidth mirror, so
hopefully it will be available soon for download.

If you have any other ideas for content to be placed on the mirror
please drop the mirror admins a line at requests at mirror.linux.org.au.
The mirror itself can be accessed at http://mirror.linux.org.au/

* Admin Team
As I mentioned in the lead-in, the admin team did a sterling job pulling
together the infrastructure needed to run Rusty's Q&A session a couple
of weeks ago. It was all done on just a couple of days notice and what's
even more impressive is that most of it was done by Andrew Pollock - who
isn't even in the country! The audio stream was delivered using Linux
Australia's shiny new HP DL385 server which was hosted in IVT's
rackspace (www.ivt.com.au)[1] at Verizon in Melbourne, and even with 30+
people pulling down the stream simultaneously the load hardly even
registered on it.

It seems Andrew must have too much time on his hands because he's also
recently converted the server we bought last year for the LCA website
from UML to Xen. The plan is to eventually use virtual machines for
pretty much everything, which will give great flexibility in providing
services such as hosting for specific projects and subcommittees, and
hopefully for LUGs and other relevant community groups.

Andrew, I owe you a beer or three.

* Press
Nothing to report, but general information is available at:

= Grants
Jared "Flame" Herbohn submitted a grant request covering two items:
hosting, and a test machine for his APhPLIX project. APhPLIX Development
Studio is a browser-based Rapid Application Development (RAD)
environment which is used to create APhPLIX applications.  An APhPLIX
application is a dynamic, browser-based application which looks, feels
and acts like a regular window-based application.

A big thankyou to Steve Walsh of Nerdvana (www.nerdvana.org.au) who
quickly jumped up to offer hosting for the project, and Flame took up
the offer with the project now running at www.aphplix.org. LA agreed to
provide funding for purchase of a machine for cross-platform testing and
the details of actually making that happen are being sorted out at the
moment. Flame has now entered APhPHLIX in the VMware Ultimate Virtual
Appliance Challenge. Good luck Flame!

= Miscellaneous
* Common Seal
A bit of administrivia: as an incorporated association we're meant to
have a legal seal for marking certain official documents. Janet Hawtin
has drafted a number of great concepts and the design has now been
settled on.

* Teleconf Timing
For the last 18 months the LA Committee has been meeting by teleconf on
a weekly basis. Because of various commitments and clashes with events
like LUG meetings it's been very rare to have all the committee on at
any one time and the pressure of a weekly commitment has been a problem
for some committee members, so we have just switched to bi-monthly
meetings instead. Teleconfs will take place on the second and fourth
Tuesdays of each month from now on. This has advantages and
disadvantages, but we'll give it a go and see if it works out better
than the previous arrangement.

* Meeting Notes
>From now on we're going to try to publish all the non-confidential notes
taken at Committee teleconferences, and the one-woman-whirlwind Janet
Hawtin has already put up various historical meeting information and
some recent notes on wiki.linux.org.au.

* Wiki
Which brings us to the Wiki. One of our problems to date has been
difficulty in making stuff public and providing a place for projects and
sub-committees to put up information. To make this easier we're going to
start making more extensive use of the Wiki which was previously for
Committee use only. We're going to open it up as a more general resource
for information about all the different things that LA is doing, with
the website used for more "official" or permanent information.

* New Website
Pia Waugh and James Purser have been busily working away on a totally
new Linux Australia website running on the Joomla CMS, which will make
it much easier to keep content up to date without having to jump through
flaming hoops protected by starving lions. Many people have said they'd
actually *prefer* the flames and lions to trying to update the current
site so the new site will be a huge step forward.

We're also participating in a study being undertaken by German student
Daniel Delic, who is investigating the needs of community groups and the
benefits of providing various member services online. Daniel's feedback
and study results should help make the new site more relevant to LA

* USENIX Membership
Last week I signed up Linux Australia as a corporate member of the
USENIX association. USENIX has very generously agreed to match funds
donated through it to the John Lions Chair in Operating Systems, an
initiative to create a perpetual position for an academic at UNSW to
continue John Lions' legacy of teaching and inspiring students in the
field of operating system design. I'll send a separate email on this
subject because it's a whole big topic on its own, but essentially Linux
Australia is supporting the John Lions Chair financially and by teaming
up with USENIX we can leverage their fund-matching initiative to double
the effect of any money we donate. A big thanks go to Jon "maddog" Hall,
well known and beloved within the local and international FOSS community
as the definitive bearded UNIX patriarch, for making this all possible.

* LCA2008
The bids are in, and the contenders are Hobart and Melbourne. Both teams
have put in extremely polished, well-prepared bids and have obviously
put a lot of work into their initial planning. The level of
professionalism and enthusiasm exhibited by both groups is quite
astounding, and both have secured the support of their local tourism
authorities. Personally I think it's a pity they can't *both* win the
right to host LCA2008! Making a decision is certainly going to be tough,
and both have posted their bids to the linux-aus list so please take the
time to look them over and submit your comments to
committee at linux.org.au.

Whew, I'm exhausted now. It's taken me over 4 hours to write this email,
and probably almost that long for you to read it! It's quite likely that
I've missed something important entirely so if you know of something
that should be reported please let me know.

Rock on Linux Australia   :-)

Jonathan Oxer
Linux Australia

[1] Full disclosure: IVT is my company, and I don't want anyone to think
I'm abusing my position by promoting it here but I think it's important
that we recognise the people and companies that support LA. These
President's Reports aren't ads, but from now on when I mention a company
that has provided support to LA I'll stick in a link to their website.
You'll see the same thing further down with Nerdvana, for example.

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