Last month your editor sang for his supper at the Copyright Symposium dinner at Kitchen by Mike in Rosebery ... A glittering night filled with the crown princes and princesses of the copyright caper ... Copyright creator in a sea of copyright curators ... Speech ... Speech ... Speech ... There were even a few wintery smiles from W. Gummow
Judges, Retired Judges, Barristers, Law Firm Partners, Executive Directors, CEOs, Presidents, Managers, Advisors, Team Leaders, Copyright Gurus All.
What a happy experience it must be, to be confined in a space that was once the Aristocrat poker-machine factory and lectured by a journalist for longer than you'd hoped.
First, our respects to the indefeasible title holders of this land - the Packers, the Murdochs, the Rineharts and all those who pull the levers of our creative development.
This must be one of the rare occasions in the twenty-first century when a conclave of lawyers has not had it's after-dinner oration delivered by Michael Kirby.
Last time this symposium sat down to dinner, you were addressed by another journalist, Richard Glover from Your Besieged ABC.
He told the story of how his mother ran off with his English teacher.
For copyright people, and particularly copyright lawyers, whose very calling card is a line of impressive cross-pollinating liaisons, this would have seemed been a minor conquest indeed.
* * *
Tonight is the half-way mark for a two day symposium of considerable meat and potatoes - a celebration of copyright creators and those who leverage their creations so rewardingly.
The entire event must be close to the original Classical Greek meaning of the word "symposium" - a drinking party, a forum for men of good family to debate, plot, boast or simply revel with others.
I'm sure it's living up to its ancient meaning.
Maybe, the choice of a talking journalist is not the best idea, because journalism by its very nature to a large extent depends on theft of other people's creations, unlicensed recycling and generally defying the laws of pay to look.
Plagiarism is also rife, largely because of a lack of original thinkers.
I once saw an entire article of mine reproduced in The Bulletin, as an original work, only to be told by the reproducer that I should be flattered by the attention.
This reproductive inclination is taught at an early age, and I see this at home, where school kiddies knock off entire slabs of Wikipedia and then write at the bottom of their essay "By Master Ackland, 4B".
There are people who are contracted to write the university essays of slow students, so by the time you get to be a journalist the skill of cutting and pasting has been well learned.
Photos too are routinely plundered by news desks from other publications on the internet. Story ideas are stolen, people's words are reconfigured.
Indeed, it was the scouring for photos of Teresa Brennan that led to one of the great scoops of recent times.
Marcus Einfeld telling the Local Court that a dead person was driving his speeding car in Mosman led directly to his downfall.
Subs on the Daily Telegraph seeking to illustrate the court report went to the internet to find a photo of Professor Brennan, only to discover the horrible truth.
The follow-up phone call from the paper to the former Federal Court judge just added to the confusion and Marcus was locked into a vortex of self-destruction.
The humdrum daily routine of knocking off other people's photos can, and does, yield important outcomes.
* * *
The unfortunate thing for journalists attending public gatherings is that sooner, rather than later, someone will come towards you with an outstretched finger jabbing into your lapel saying, "I've got a bone to pick with you".
It's for this reason I'm relieved that Senator Brandis or his freedom fighter Tim Wilson cannot be here tonight.
Along with others in the rat pack, I've tried to work out what on earth the attorney general is on about with his startling embrace of freedoms.
Every time he opens his mouth about free speech the hole gets deeper.
It seems to boil down to feel free to issue a few racial insults, but whatever you do don't let anyone launch a satirical attack on News Ltd columnists.
I have in mind here the Chris Kenny defamation case where the ABC is being attacked by the PM down for having the temerity to defend the case.
QandA on Monday night (March 10) emphasised the confusion.
On a segment of the show dealing with some resentment about Chinese property buyers Senator Brandis said:
"I'm always uncomfortable with the idea of picking on one racial group and saying, well, they're the problem."
This is just after he'd spend a large amount of time discussing s.18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and saying in relation to race that "in a free country, people should have the right to say things that other people find insulting or offensive or wounding".
He even complained on Wednesday that a leaflet attacking a Liberal candidate was a "thinly veiled racial slur". Presumably, what he's hoping for once s.18C is gone is racial slurs without any sort of veils, or at least ones that are not directed at Liberal candidates.
The Jesuit lawyer and academic Father Frank Brennan was recently invited to give an after dinner speech to the Queensland Law Society in the presence of the state attorney general, the chief justice of the Queensland Supreme Court and the Commonwealth Attorney General, Senator Brandis.
Apparently, they were all shocked and alarmed to find the meddlesome priest speaking about human rights, civil liberties, the bikie laws and how the Newman government reminded him of the Bjelke-Petersen era.
When he finished and sat down the top table of VIPs was glacial. The Chief Justice and Senator Brandis left hurriedly before they had eaten their puddings.
It would be terrible waste for anyone to give up on desert due anything I might say tonight. Untoward, desert-destroying thoughts will be kept to a minimum.
* * *
I'd like to dwell momentarily on the role of copyright creators, who might otherwise be known as journalists.
Those in the traditional mainstream media are like frogs in water that is slowly being brought to the boil.
The old media world is being deeply disrupted. The internet is atomising information and news.
At the same time, perhaps prematurely, it is being lauded as the engine of diversity, even though none of that diversity adds up to much more than a hill of beans on the bottom line.
I don't know what that means for people who curate the works of copyright creators.
The mainstream newspapers are hoping that their own web and tablet based services will fill the void.
However, that is a highly competitive environment without the benefit of an oligopoly structure - a structure with which large publishers and broadcasters are entire comfortable.
It's unlikely that the new forms of revenue can afford the level of journalism that was financed by the analogue model.
All of this is still playing out - but we can guess where it will end up.
However, in the hiatus the curtain is lifted on yet another round of media structural reforms - known around town as Rupert's Dividend.
If all goes to plan it will be second big dividend for News Corp.
The existing media rules, after all, were part of the package by Treasurer Keating to sweeten the pain of allowing, in a gesture of competitiveness, News to buy 100 percent of Herald & Weekly Times and thus to straddle like King Kong 65 percent of the newspaper business in Australia.
Now it's time for another dose of competitiveness, by removing restraints that prohibit News, or any other publisher, from buying free to air TV or radio stations, maybe even helping out Little Lachlan, by acquiring his dud investments in things like Channel 10.
Now that Alan Jones and Ray Hadley sadly won't be part of the stable, Fairfax is right behind the unshackling because it is looking for a new bedroom partner, maybe Channel Nine and the delights of Fat Tony & Co, Big Brother, The Footy Show, House Husbands, Batchelorette and most gripping of all A Current Affair.
There was a very mild attempt last year by the Labor government to create a public interest test for media mergers and a new self-regulatory media standards regime, but that was shouted down by the usual suspects.
The media didn't like those reforms, but in the main they like the Coalition's latest plan that will again concentrate the mainstream media sector, by reducing the number of main players by half.
This fits in with the rest of the government's policies: reducing Tasmania's forests by half, the size of the Barrier Reef by half, the ABC by half, half the climate we once had, and at the same time 100 percent less boats.
* * *
Without over-egging the case, the good old media has played a vital role in a civil democratic society.
Sometimes we should question that vitality.
A short story will illustrate the point.
A habit of the Financial Review bureau in Canberra, when I used to work there, was to have lunch at the golf club at Narrabunda.
The entire bureau was there one day having a long and exhausting feast, which included lots of games of snooker.
We arrived back at the office around 6pm, a little tired and emotional, to find the phones in the office ringing off the hook.
Hadn't we heard, inquired an impertinent editor in Sydney, that the government had handed down a mini budget that day? Where was our copy. It's 20 minutes to deadline?
Brian Toohey, who was then the chef de bureau, smooth as greased lightening said:
"Of course, we know that. We've been fanning out interviewing everyone to secure to most precious angles and insights into this important economic story."
Showing the vitality of copyright creators we raced to the press boxes in which had been stuffed an enormous pile of government media releases about the mini-budget.
If ever there is a document riddled with misinformation it is a press release.
Nonetheless, we frantically pasted these government pronouncements onto pieces of copy paper and sent them up the wire to Sydney, word for word as the ministers had written.
Next day this appeared as "analysis" under the names of the members of the Financial Review parliamentary bureau.
It was an appalling state of affairs, and we were highly nervous when the editor rang the next morning:
"Boys, you had best coverage of the mini-budget. Congratulations."
If the editor of the Financial Review thought that a whole pile of cobbled press releases was the finest coverage on offer, who were we to disagree?
We retired that day to the Narrabunda Golf Club to celebrate our journalistic triumph.
* * *
I don't want to leave the impression that journalism is without an ethical foundation. Far from it.
In the days of the old parliament house journalists and politicians lived quite communally. Members of the press gallery wandered into ministers' offices to pick-up gossip or use the photocopying machines.
Sometimes a precious cabinet document had been left in the photocopier.
Was it a subtle way of leaking something? Or had someone carelessly left a priceless secret in a photocopier?
The ethical test begins to get quite pressing and the journalist's thoughts are racing.
Should I make one more copy and whisk it away? Would that be a theft of a government secret?
Was it placed there deliberately to trap someone into taking it? Would it ruin future relationships if I did use this information?
Regrettably there is no guidance in the journalists' code of ethics about this, so it had to be assumed that documents were deliberately placed there, hoping journalists would find them.
It was regarded as an early version of FOI. Maybe this was something Senator Conroy was trying to clear up with his ill-fated media reforms.
* * *
The Rebekah Brooks hacking trial in London has opened our eyes to some of the more refined tricks of the trade, tricks of which innocents like ourself may be entirely unaware.
Apart from the tedious daily ritual of hacking into the voice mail of celebrities, the royals and politicians to find out what they had for breakfast and with whom they are sleeping - there are other important skills.
There's blagging - or pretending to be someone else in order to procure private information. Basically, it's putting on a funny voice over the phone to con someone into doing something.
There's binology - the art of rifling through rubbish bins to obtain discarded secrets.
This is what Rebekah Brooks said when she was being cross-examined about binology.
"I told my news desk our standards had to be high. We have to be above the law ... sorry within the law."
Of course, none of this happens here, that's why we don't been a media watchdog.
We rely instead on a process of rigorous news selection.
Although, I wouldn't be so sure that if anyone is suing a newspaper that you wouldn't get an unwanted visitor, who steals all your computers and phone from your home.
Just ask Bruce Guthrie, former editor of the Herald Sun, who took a successful unfair dismissal case against News.
* * *
So let me get to the point.
As copyright creators can the school of journalism survive?
At Fairfax we're told that quality journalism is still the go - at the same time we've seen an enormous number of reporters being made redundant.
Maybe it will be a different style of journalism governed by the metrics of page views and unique users.
It's important to remember that one of the most viewed stories ever on smh.com.au was a video of snake eating a crocodile.
Forget all the investigative research, the exposure of corruption in high places, the critiques and opinions, none of it can beat someone with a mobile phone filming a snake eating a crocodile.
With columnists and news stories, the triumphant measure is the number of comments posted online.
If columnists say really stupid things, like the ABC should be abolished, or Joe Hockey is brilliant and imaginative, then the comments flood in - and that is deemed a successful article.
Usually the posted remarks are just people scratching their fleas in public and bear no relationship to the story - but that is no important.
Popularity is the new the measure of good journalism and click bait is what drives the revenue, even in vastly reduced amounts.
It's interesting that the Daily Telegraph in London has just replaced its editor - and the title of the new editor is "chief content officer".
Content is an amorphous concept, much more like a slurry or a moulie that can be piped to fill any void.
However, if the daily newspapers eventually limped off the stage what would be the story?
It's happened in the US, where prominent papers such as the Christian Science Monitor have gone digital and replaced daily print editions with a weekly news magazine.
The result is that the title has all but disappeared from consciousness.
To have heft and leverage and clout as a media organisation, you need the synergy of print with online. If the big newspaper organisations give up on print entirely I think we're doomed.
Once important mastheads will just part be part of the sea of competing news websites.
The Financial Times, however, is showing how to fuse the two successfully. All the daily news bits, the ever-changing variations of man bites dog, go online to ft.com, while the features, investigations, interviews and the thoughtful stuff go to print.
The daily FT is evolving into something that is much more like a news magazine.
The restructuring that we've seen in the local newspaper business has been accompanied by an unprecedented degree of polarisation between publishers and attacks on the public broadcasters.
A shortsighted, ideologically driven, nit-picking that takes us nowhere interesting.
* * *
Tonight, I would like to toast those who slave in the kitchen of making it financially worthwhile to be a copyright creator.
You have no idea how uplifting it is to receive a copyright notification that the Gulargambone TAFE has made four copies of your article on mandatory sentencing and that $8.43 is waiting to be sent to your nominated account.
It's cunningly designed, because when you go into the Copyright Agency website you soon realise that the effort required to navigate the intricacy and the details of securing this payment will be worth more than $8.43 of your time.
In that way the money stays where it is, uncollected, acquiring interest on interest.
The whole thing is conceptually brilliant.
* * *
Can I let you into a secret?
All journalists are procrastinators and live in fear of being exposed as frauds.
This too is my abiding fear, so I thought it best if I outed myself.
Far from having any brilliant pedigree in my earliest days as a journalist I landed up in the offices of Maxwell Newton Pty Ltd.
He was a brilliant, mad, pill popping, genius and an economist of note. He'd turned the Financial Review into a daily paper for Fairfax, and he was Murdoch's founding editor of The Australian.
At the stage I was working for him he had a nice little business in Canberra stealing Treasury secrets and selling them to the Japanese. His biggest source was Billy (The Leak) McMahon.
He was also buying a whole raft of funny little papers with the ambition of turning them into mighty national organs. The Canberra Post ... The Daily Commercial News ... The Nowra Bugle ... and The Egg & Fowl.
The Egg & Fowl was the official organ of the WA Poultryman's Association, produced out of an office in Fyshwick, thousands of kilometres from the chook farms of the west.
It's mission was to instruct chook farmers about the evils of protectionism, agrarian socialism, Black Jack McEwan and the National Party.
At 23 years of age I was made editor-in-chief of The Egg & Fowl and dispatched to press conferences at Parliament House to ask earnest questions about the economy.
My first such experience was at a press conference held by Prime Minister John Gorton. As was the procedure, journalists had to announce their position and publication.
Up I stood with a question on interest rates.
"Richard Ackland, Prime Minister, Editor of The Egg & Fowl."
I've kept you from your pudding long enough. Thank you for being so attentive to a former editor of the poultryman's bible.