Online sales expose "grey" distribution rules

A movie distributor has warned several local Web sites to remove banner ads for amazon.com that promote the DVD and video sale of a film that has not been released in Australia yet.

Motion picture distributor Becker requested Amazon's ads for The Blair Witch Project be removed because it says as exclusive licensee, it has sole rights in Australia and New Zealand to manufacture, distribute, rent, lease or sell videos of film.

According to law firm Holding Redlich, which is acting on behalf of Becker, the Web site creators, by advertising the importation into Australia of versions of the picture, are breaching sections of the Trade Practices Act 1974, Copyright Act 1968, and state and federal classification laws.

Whilst David Andrews, copyright specialist and partner at Holding Redlich, said the laws do not "directly deal with the online world", he said the legislation can be applied to the Internet.

"It could be said there are people who believe the Internet appears to be so unregulated that anything can be done . . . and this shows it just can't be. There is legislation which can be used to enforce people's rights," he said.

Peter Coroneos, executive director of the Internet Industry Association, said the issue raised is "a grey area when it comes to Internet communications".

Under the present copyright laws, distribution of the goods via the Internet is "unclear", Coroneos said.

"This is an example of how the Internet is a difficult area to regulate . . . [and] where they are trying to fit old law to bend for a new situation," Coroneos said.

Andrews said Holding Redlich approached two Web site creators and Amazon.com over the issue, which he believes is the first of its kind in Australia.

"We suggested [Amazon.com] make it clear to anybody that visits the site [that some material] is only available in specified territories," Andrews said.

"I am hoping they will acknowledge the nature of the problem. It wouldn't pose any difficulties to make it clear on its Web site that titles such the 'The Blair Witch Project' are not available for distribution in some territories," he said.

Scott Mendham, creator of one of the Web sites the law firm approached, believes Holding Redlich and Becker are "claiming things legally that they can't.

"All we [the Web sites] are doing is directing people to Amazon.com," Mendham said.

Mendham said he removed the banner ads from his Web site, but only because "there has not been much interest in [The Blair Witch Project]".

According to Coroneos, the federal government's proposed copyright reforms, which were promised more than 12 months ago, will make it clear where the responsibility lies in such circumstances.

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