Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a survey of the week’s developing media news.
In a closed and highly monitored society such as Saudi Arabia, new media provides opportunities for citizens to express themselves and communicate, which poses issues for government regulation, especially in relation to the dissemination of information. Citizens in Saudi Arabia are moving away from traditional telephony companies and shifting to apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber which enable users to bypass some state controls. Earlier this year the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) stated that communication apps broke unspecified laws, and later in June banned Viber. Concerns about how to regulate apps continue in the country. Recently, similar tensions between restrictive governments and apps have occurred in Vietnam. Communication apps provide a critical means of communication for activists, enabling them to share news and information through channels more secure from government scrutiny.
This week New Zealand passed a law banning patents on software. The revised patent law states that “a computer program is not an invention” and therefore cannot be patented. Some argue that software patenting stifles innovation as software development requires new programs to build upon existing codes. Patents prevent this recycling, and sometimes results in expensive court battles over often simple codes or software technology. In Europe developers must prove their software significantly contributes to the technical field, while in the United States and Canada there is no definitive ruling on what makes software patentable or not. Open source software supporters, as well as New Zealand officials, hope this victory leads to more technological innovation in the field.
Arguments over an anti-monopoly media law began Wednesday in the Argentinian Supreme Court. The government says the 2009 law will foster competition by preventing private monopolies for cable TV ownership. Though passed in 2009, Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarin stalled implementation of some of the law’s key articles. Clarin represents the main opposition to the government in these hearings. Opponents of the law claim that it will limit independent media, providing the government with too much control of information dissemination. Supporters of the law believe it will create a more level playing field for smaller media actors, putting them on more equal ground with conglomerates.