Tim Longhurst's Blog

The Prime Minister’s Office, Melbourne IT, Richard Neville and johnhowardpm.org

March 21st, 2006 · 3 Comments

jhpm.jpgFinally, we can have some closure on the story of johnhowardpm.org…

After tens of phone calls, many conversations, lots of notes on scrap paper, several stories in the media and plenty of google-searches, I can now report the following key facts relating to johnhowardpm.org:

  • Richard Neville set up the spoof website, johnhowardpm.org, which contained a speech that appeared to convey John Howard’s “second thoughts” on the war in Iraq. The site may have breached the copyright notice on the real Prime Minister’s site, as many of the design elements appear to have been directly lifted from the PM’s real site. Source: johnhowardpm.org and this copyright notice.
  • The Australian High-Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC) contacted Melbourne IT and requested johnhowardpm.org be shut down. Source: Bruce Tonkin, CTO of Melbourne IT on Radio National
  • Melbourne IT asked the AHTCC to issue the request in writing. A letter arrived from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and was copied to the AHTCC. ibid
  • Melbourne IT‘s staff then compared the real Prime Minister’s site with johnhowardpm.org, found they were similar and based their decision to freeze the domain on the ‘credibility of the applicant’ (ie. the credibility of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet). ibid
  • Melbourne IT shut down the domain without communicating with the domain’s legal owner, Richard Neville. Source: Richard Neville (conversation)
  • Richard asked me to investigate why his site had stopped working. I soon discovered his domain was ‘on hold’, but when I called Melbourne IT, they said it had nothing to do with them.
  • I ran the story on this site, Crikey ran the story in their newsletter and Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) soon published the story on their website. Only after the SMH story – a full three days after the domain was shut down – did Melbourne IT contact Neville to inform him they’d shut down his website at the Government‘s request. Source: RichardNeville.com
  • Bruce Tonkin, CTO of Melbourne IT, has accepted that this was all handled very badly and has indicated that it may have been a mistake for his company to take the Prime Minister’s office at their word. In its ten years of operation, this was the first time Melbourne IT had shut down a satirical website. Source: Bruce Tonkin, CTO of Melbourne IT on Radio National
  • Radio National’s Breakfast with Fran Kelly interviewed both Richard Neville and Bruce Tonkin. This program highlighted the flawed process by which johnhowardpm.org was shut down. Source: Radio National
  • johnhowardpm.org is no longer frozen and is currently directing users to RichardNeville.com.

My thoughts

Richard Neville should have been given an opportunity to respond to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s complaint before the website was shut down.

Melbourne IT should have told Neville they had shut down his domain and why. Neville could have quickly rectified his site (if necessary) and had it back online in a matter of hours. Instead, Neville was left guessing for three days what had happened to his site and was unaware of the reasons for its shut down.

Richard’s ‘jam’ relied on copyright images and text. Copyright law by definition limits the methods by which an individual’s ideas and beliefs may be expressed. This is an issue dealt with at length by Lawrence Lessig, who believes the entire basis by which ideas are protected requires a rethink. This is a debate we ought to be having in Australia.

Thanks is owed to Ben Shearman at Crikey and Gregg Borschmann at Radio National. Conversations with them helped crystalise the key issues in this story. They did a great job in covering the story in their respective formats.

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Category: culture jamming

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