Thursday, April 30, 2009
Contrast this with the panic and teeth-gnashing some months ago (such as here) when another study appeared to show primary school students were faring badly in science. Newspaper articles such as this one compared us to Kazakhstan, and the usual business lobby groups rushed to express concern. The head of Business New Zealand complained the results showed we were losing our competitive edge as a nation.
What the results appear to show, however, is that all is well by the time students are at secondary school. This improvement has been attributed by educators to the focus on numeracy and literacy during early years. An early mastery of these skills enables students to develop a strong foundation for learning across all subjects during later years.
It's just a pity that the funding of science, and levels of R&D, are still shockingly low in this country. The new government abolished the R&D tax credit, much to the dismay of the science community, and has done little since to assure anyone the science is a priority for them. It remains to be seen whether the Budget will contain anything new for science, but nobody should be too hopeful.
So we may be producing some of the smartest potential scientists in the world, but their career opportunities in this country will remain limited.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Let us look at the evidence:
I remember the first two seasons of (then) Super 12 rugby well. I followed most games and went to the 1996 and 1997 finals. I even bought the merchandise. Even when the team failed in 1998 it seemed more like a blip than anything serious. And the team they lost to were pretty useful.
Apart from a title victory in 2003, there hasn't been much for Blues supporters to shout about for the last ten years. Every year the same template is adopted: classy wins against tough opposition are followed by dismal defeats against teams they should trounce. This season has been no different.
I realised things weren't great when I saw them fall at Eden Park against the Warratahs. It was one of the ugliest games I've ever watched. But then they won a couple of games and semed to be getting some momentum. Until this weekend. I only saw the last half of the game against the Reds, but it wasn't pretty, and even though the Blues scored some tries at the end and gained some bonus points, all fluency was lacking. Passes were thrown clumsily and players kept dropping the ball. Contrast this with the Hurricanes, who were incisive and ruthless in disposing of the Brumbies.
It's hard to point to the exact problem. The players should be good enough, and there's no lack of All Black talent in the squad. Injuries have been disruptive, but other teams have had major injury problems too. Is the coaching setup wrong? There have been some late night shennaigans involving younger players, so is there a discipline issue? Does this come back to the coaching? I wish I knew the answer.
Maybe I need to give up on this year's Super 14 and "move on" (as Tony Blair would say when confronted by an inconvenient past statement). There's always the cricket to bring hope. My expectations of the Black Caps are so low that anything other than annihilating defeat feels like an epic victory.
Friday, April 24, 2009
LawNews has a Wills section, which lists the names of people who have recently died. Estate lawyers use this section to notify the profession about wills or other testamentary documents being sought in relation to the deceased. Many clients like their solicitors to hold their will, so most firms will get someone (usually a deeds or filing clerk) to check the names published against their own records.I usually flick through this list, in case I recognise the name of a former client.
Today I recognised a name, but the name was not that of a client. It was the name of someone I went to school with in the early 1980s, someone who for two or three years I regarded as my best friend. Seeing that name hit me hard, even though we'd not kept in contact and I hadn't seen him for over 15 years. We lost touch because my parents were always on the move, always shifting house for something bigger and better - or so they always hoped. More often than not those hopes were disappointed.
It was a chance occurrence that led to our last meeting 15 years ago. For some reason I was driving down the long main road where he and his family lived. I decided on a sudden whim to see if he still lived in the same place. It was an odd kind of meeting - two adults who knew each other as kids but who no longer had anything in common. We exchanged small-talk and promised to keep in touch, but I knew at the time we wouldn't. And so it turned out.
I wondered occasionally what had become of this friend, and I even googled him, but couldn't find out anything. Then this morning I found out he was no more. He'd been dead over a month, and the brief death notice I managed to find in the Herald Online told me nothing about what had befallen him, except that he died "suddenly".
So now I'm left wondering what that word means. Did he have an accident? Did his heart suddenly give out? Or, and this is the hardest thing to think about, did he decide one day he'd had enough of life? It's easier to reconcile yourself to the first two possibilities, because our lives are fragile and can be snuffed out at any time by events beyond our control. What's harder to think about is the possibility that his death was not a random thing, but was deliberate.
Suicide is a brutal thing. Those left behind are left to wonder whether they could have done more to help. Would counselling, drug therapy or some other intervention have saved the person? In the case of my friend I just don't know, because I know so little about what his life became. But I now can't help but wonder whether I should have got back in contact years ago, and whether it might have made a difference.
This is all speculation, because I still don't know what happened. And I don't know whether it would be right to contact the family to find out. I had not been part of my friend's life for years, so what right do I have to intrude on their grief? And how will it change what has happened? He'll still be dead.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
When I started this site I didn't intend every post to be about the dire state of our news media. So much for that plan. To be fair, however, the "mainstream media" are a soft target for my uninformed rantings.
So now I've decided to write something about my day job. For those who don't know (probably almost everyone reading this), I'm a lawyer who works with inventors, innovators and businesspeople to commercialise intellectual property.
But you'll be pleased to know this post is not exactly "A Day in the Life", because what I find interesting about my job most normal people would find unspeakably dull. One of those "interesting" things (possibly not so for my clients) is sorting out intellectual property ownership problems.
Because the commissioning rule under the Copyright Act 1994 is responsible for a large number of these problems, I decided to write something about the rule and what effects its imminent demise might have.
What is the Commissioning Rule?
If you create copyright works, or if you commission others to create copyright works, the proposed changes to the commissioning rule under the Copyright Act might affect you.
If you've ever dealt with wedding photographers, you'll know how insistent they are about owning the copyright in their work. Photographers have good business reasons for wanting to hold onto copyright: copyright ownership allows them to control what is done with their work, and they get repeat business through reprints and enlargements.
But if you've paid for someone to create something for you, something that would not otherwise exist, shouldn't you own the copyright?
New Zealand's copyright laws try to balance these competing interests. In some situations ownership of copyright in a work will belong to the person who commissioned the work, while in other situations ownership will remain with the creator. I'll refer to these two groups as "commissioners" and "creators". The law's attempt to balance interests, however, often leads to unexpected or unintended results.
Photographers have long opposed the current copyright commissioning rule, because the rule does not favour their industry. After some lobbying they succeeded in 2006 in gettting the then Labour Government to review the rule. But instead of simply amending the rule to exempt photographic works, the Ministry of Economic Development took the opportunity to examine the entire basis for the rule. Following the MED's review the Copyright (Commissioning Rule) Amendment Bill was introduced into Parliament.
The Review Process
For those interested, here is some information about the review process undertaken by the MED.
The MED issued a discussion paper in 2006 and received a number of submissions. A further consultation paper was issued in 2007 entitled "The Commissioning Rule and the Copyright Act 1994". 17 submissions were received in 2008. The MED then issued a Cabinet Paper in December 2007. Cabinet agreed to implement the recommendations in that paper, and the Copyright (Commissioning Rule) Amendment Bill was introduced into Parliament on 19 September 2008. It has not yet progressed beyond its first reading.
But what is the "Commissioning Rule"?
Section 21(3) of the Copyright Act 1994 sets out what we know as the "Commissioning Rule". It says:
(a) A person commissions, and pays or agrees to pay for, the taking of a photograph or the making of a computer program, painting, drawing, diagram, map, chart, plan, engraving, model, sculpture, film, or sound recording; and
(b) The work is made in pursuance of that commission,—
that person is the first owner of any copyright in the work.
In short, in certain circumstances a person who commissions another person to create a work will be the first owner of the copyright in that work.
But section 21(4) of the Copyright Act provides that section 21(3) won't apply if there is an agreement to the contrary. The purpose of section 21(4) is to allow the parties involved in the creation of the work to make their own arrangements about copyright ownership.
Who does the Rule affect?
The Commissioning Rule affects a large number of people involved in the creation and exploitation of copyright works. These people include:
- software developers
- architects and draftspersons
- artists and graphic designers
- product and machinery designers
Why change or abolish the Rule?
Many creators have argued that they should be free to determine how their works are exploited, and that the only way for them to retain control is to retain copyright in their works. The Rule makes it harder for them to do this.
In contrast, some commissioners have argued for the Rule to be expanded to include other types of copyright works or, at worst, for the Rule to remain as is.
The Commissioning Rule has also troubled intellectual property lawyers since it was introduced, because of its anomolies and because of the practical difficulties it often causes.
The most frequent objections traditionally raised by creators and IP lawyers are set out below.
- The Rule applies only to some copyright works. For example, a photographer under commision is subject to the Rule, but a person who creates a literary work (other than software) under commision is not.
- Confusion may result if creative works involve different types of copyright. Here are two common examples:
A designer creates an advertising flyer for a customer. If the flyer contains drawings or photographs the Rule will apply to those drawings or photographs, so that the copyright in those drawings or photographs will be owned by the customer. But the text of the flyer is a literary work, so the Rule doesn't apply to the text. The designer may exploit that literary work as it pleases for its other customers, but is not entitled to use the drawings or photographs.
A software developer creates software for a customer, and also provides to the customer an instruction booklet. Copyright in the software belongs to the customer, but copyright in the booklet remains with the developer.
- The Rule makes it more difficult for creators to control the exploitation and use of their works, because ownership of copyright allows a person to object to use of a work by others.
- The Rule may in some circumstances restrict the ability of creators to use or build on their creations in the future, particularly if such future use would infringe the copyright in their previous works.
- The exception to the Rule (i.e. section 21(4)) only applies if there is an agreement between the commissioner and the creator. But in some industries, such as the graphic or artistic design industries, contracts are the exception rather than the norm.
- It may prove difficult to negotiate away from the Rule if there is an inequality of bargaining power between the commissioner and creator.
- The Rule is out of step with copyright ownership rules in other countries, and makes it more difficult to negotiate contracts between people in different countries. In the UK and Ireland the equivalent rules have been repealed, and Canada is moving to repeal its copyright commisioning rules. The US "work for hire" rules are also different.
But why shouldn't we get rid of the Rule?
The main argument for retaining, or even expanding, the Rule is that people who pay for works should be able to control the exploitation of those works. This is the "I pay so I own" principle.
Supporters of this argument often claim that to abolish the commisisoning rule would stifle creativity or innovation, because people might be less likely to commisision the creation of copyright works if they cannot own the copyright in those works. Some people have claimed that publishers and newspapers may increasingly rely on stock images if the Rule is abolished.
These supporters argue that much of the confusion caused by the Rule can be alleviated by expanding the Rule to apply to all copyright works, not just those works curently covered by the Rule.
Proposed abolition of Rule
Following the various rounds of consultation the Government has decided to abolish the Rule. The bill has not yet gone to select committee, but it seems unlikely any new arguments for or against the Rule will arise.
This will be a good result for creators, but commissioners will obviously lose out. It also means that publishers and other commissioners will now have to negotiate over copyright ownership every time they commission photographers and artists to work for them.
It may be some years before we know what effect abolition of the Rule will have on the creative industries. But the inevitable short term effect of the new regime will be confusion. Organisations who are accustomed to owning what they pay for will suddenly find they have no rights of ownership.
In the end this probably means more work for lawyers like me. Because commissioners will more than ever need good legal advice to ensure their contracts deal properly with copyright ownership.
John Banks on the $1.79 million ARC loss from the Beckham game:
The ratepayers of Auckland will be shocked at this very bad news and instalments of worse news that logically follow this kind of incompetence
To quote our own Napoleon:
I can hear the flapping of the wings as the roasters (sic) come home.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
But anyone who watched TV last night would be excused for thinking the economic tsumani engulfing us all is nothing but a ripple. TV3 led with a story about potential plans to rename the North and South Islands, and it followed with an article about Eskimo confectionary. Both stories seemed designed to get a reaction. You could almost imagine the moment as thousands of couch viewers jumped up exclaiming "the PC mob are at it again!"
Never an organisation to miss stirring the pot, the Herald's "Your Spews" then asks its readers what alternative names we should give the North and South Islands. The responses are sadly predictable.
News organisations are often accused of only running bad news stories. That trend, however, seems to be changing. Now "bad news" is "mad news" - stories written or presented in a way that seems designed specifically to pander to those who think with their gut rather than their head. A whole lexicon has developed in response to Mad News, and phrases such as "minorities", "PC gone mad", "nanny state" and "socialist agenda" are parrotted again and again.
Mad News sells. And it's cheap to produce. Think of some minor controversy and interview a bureaucrat, or even better a "Maori radical" about it. Then get Michael Laws on the phone. The result is pure gold.
The trend towards Mad News appears to show no signs of abating. Certainly both issues that led 3 News are worthy of being reported in their own right, though not at the top of the bulletin. And they deserve to be reported in a way that doesn't leave people shouting "they're at it again!".
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Paul Holmes: It's possible, as you suggest in your latest Herald on Sunday article, that God forced Tony Veitch to kick his partner. It's also possible that God is forcing you to write drivel in order to bring a long-overdue end to your career.
Stacey Jones: Worthy. We. Are not.
Tony Veitch: Go somewhere where there is no TV, no radio, no internet, and no newspapers. Call nobody other than your therapist. Stay away for several months.
John Key: It's never a good idea to talk about invading a Pacific island. Not ever.
Lisa Lewis: Nobody's interested. Go work in a supermarket.
John Banks: The election's not till next year. You're not supermayor yet.
Richard Worth: Are you the David Benson-Pope of this Parliament?
Cameron Slater, aka Whaleoil: Does your Dad know you've been on his computer? You'll be grounded when he finds out.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Now I'm not exactly unbiased, being a contented Westie (which apparently makes me a minority). But it always pays to be deeply sceptical of any survey that attempts to measure quality of life.
The HOS article makes no serious attempt to examine the issues raised by the report, or the methodology behind it. Judging by the usual standards of the HOS, that is hardly a surprise. But it hardly excuses such a ludicrous "fluff" piece.
It starts badly:
Deep in Waitakere City, Westfield Westcity shopping mall's high concrete ramparts set it apart from the shabby shops and discount stores of the Henderson stretch of Great North Road. With its familiar layout, replica chain stores and harsh lighting, this mall could be anywhere in the country - until you look around at the grim faces.
Supermarket shoppers elbow their way through the deadpan crowd, and even the hand-holding couples look gloomy. Aside from the giggles of window-shopping teenage girls, few smiles crack the surface.
I'll happily admit that Henderson's main street is an eyesore. But Westcity has no more or fewer grim faces than, say St Lukes or Manukau City Westfield.
And then there's this:
Robyn Malcolm can judge the mood in Waitakere better than most: the hard-working, hard-partying character she plays on TV's Outrageous Fortune is the archetypal Westie, yet the actor herself lives in Devonport on Auckland's North Shore. Malcolm says every place has its happy and its unhappy bits: "It depends on who moves in."
This is lazy journalism at its worst. Maybe someone didn't realise that Outrageous Fortune is a drama, not a documentary. Otherwise why would you interview a person who doesn't live in Waitakere, and then claim the person has a better insight than most? Will the HOS now be interviewing Shortland Street actors whenever they have a health story?
Let's not pretend Waitakere is a paradise. It has its share of problems, including as crime and poverty. But so do other cities. The article's writer could have taken time to examine the report and its methodology, but walking around a mall probably sounded much easier.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Presumably, if one is forced to admit that human-caused climate change is real, one might also be forced to concede that evolution as a concept exists. In both cases, the science is close to irrefutable. But faith demands that the scientists have got it wrong or are suppressing the real truth.
Is it any wonder then that the US lags behind much of the developed world in its response to climate change?
Friday, April 17, 2009
The latest OECD report for New Zealand was released on 16 April. The OECD reports on New Zealand every two years.
The latest report, however, makes for alarming reading.
Some key findings
The report's authors predict that the economy is likely to remain in recession until some time late in 2010.
The authors identify a number of challenges facing the country. These include:
- low productivity continues to be a problem
- the household debt to savings ratio continues to deteriorate
- the Government is experiencing a sharply deterioration in its fiscal position
- spending in healthcare needs to be brought under control.
The report recommends a number of actions.
The authors take the view that there is still room to move with monetary policy, but the current environment does not allow for much fiscal expansion. Further fiscal stimulus should be a last resort, and any measures should be temporary only.
Not surprisingly, the authors recommend that Government spending should be seriously looked at, in order to reduce the size of the deficits being run. Additionally, the viability of a number of Crown-owned entitles such as ACC, rail and Kiwibank, needs to be questioned, and the report recommends that some assets may need to be sold.
On the other hand, investment in infrastructure, such as roads, electricity and telecommunications, is seen as critical. R&D spending is also identified as needing a lift.
The report recommends a review of the taxation regime to reduce company taxes, and recommends shifting taxation policy in favour of more efficient taxes such as GST.
The report has been cautiously welcomed by the Government, although Bill English has not surprisingly indicated that asset sales are not on the agenda. There is clearly little political appetite for a move on state assets, whatever ministers may privately think.
The call to sell-off state assets and to increase the rate of GST has predictably attracted the most criticism. But the ideological motivations of the report's writers have also been questioned.
Labour leader Phil Goff:
Uncontrolled free-market thinking was the genesis of the downturn the world faces. How can an unhealthy dose of the problem be a solution to the current crisis?
There may be something to this criticism. The economist Gareth Morgan, interviewed yesterday by Maggie Barry on Radio Live, appeared to agree broadly with the analysis of the current situation, but in his view the measures proposed were "OTT". He went on to suggest that the report's authors were ideologically driven. In Morgan's words:
I'm surprised that the Roundtable's not claiming authorship, actually.
Morgan also expressed concern about the potential effects of selling the various state-owned assets mentioned in the report. A sale of those assets would merely change a government monopoly to a private monopoly. But private monopolies are worse than state-owned ones, being harder to control. Morgan uses Telecom as an example. In Morgan's view the prescription of simply selling a bundle of state assets is too simplistic.
It remains to be seen whether any of the key recommendations of the report will be implemented. It would be a brave government that embarked on a programme of asset sales.
On the other hand, desperate times often lead to desperate measures. Will the OECD's report give Key and English the ammunition they need to commence asset sales?
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
However, I had to get the courage up to do it. After all, what business do I have publishing my thoughts? I'm not a lunatic, political extremist, or religious fanatic. All of these things would appear to disqualify me from having a blog site.
Happily I am still opinionated, and because my wife tells me I should shut up you'll have to be my audience.
I'll be posting on a range of hobbyhorses. These might include the current political environment, the economic crisis that besets us, and the regular failings of the Black Caps.
That's enough for now. I hope to be back soon with my first real post.