Wrapping up the johnhowardpm.org takedown

Melbourne IT now admits its takedown of satirical website johnhowardpm.org was “badly handled”. In an interview on ABC Radio National, Bruce Tonkin, CTO of Melbourne IT, also indicated that it may have been a mistake to take the Prime Minister’s office at their word.

As I write this, johnhowardpm.org is back online, redirected to Richard Neville’s main website.

Tim Longhurst has already written an excellent factual summary, including links to source material. So I’ll just look at three questions…

1. What crime, exactly?

The PM’s office involved the Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC). Their website describes “high tech crimes” as including:

  • computer intrusions (e.g. malicious hacking)
  • unauthorised modification of data, including destruction of data
  • denial-of-service (DoS) attacks
  • and the creation and distribution of malicious software (e.g. viruses, worms, trojans)

I don’t see how Richard Neville’s spoof fits any of those.

2. Isn’t it “Fair Usage”?

Neville’s one error may have been using elements from the real John Howard website. Despite what many people believe, Australian law does not recognise copying for satirical purposes as “fair dealing” — only for serious criticism and review.

The most recent case was TCN Channel 9 Pty Ltd sueing Ten network program The Panel over their use of Nine footage. The Melbourne University Law Review has written a detailed analysis of The Panel case, calling it “a real pea souper”. [Thanks to Jan Whitaker for the pointer.]

3. Were “favours owed”?

After all, ABC TV’s Four Corners questioned the allocation of shares in Melbourne IT’s lucrative float. Given that Melbourne IT was spun out of the University of Melbourne, a Liberal stronghold that’s not too long a stretch.

Was some Liberal conspiracy at play?

I doubt it. This was the first time Melbourne IT had shut down a satirical website in ten years of operations. They probably didn’t have a procedure, and were spooked by the call from the AHTCC.

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