I was in the UK for a friend’s wedding during the inaugural Nethui in 2011, so the 2012 Nethui was the first one for me.

There were over 500 people in attendance, and I was really pleased that it was a preetty diverse group of people. It wasn’t just the usual suspects of the Internet techos and the policy wonks. There were teachers there interested in the Internet as an education tool. Farmers were there, librarians were there, game developers were there. Oh yeah, lawyers also 🙂

Organizing a conference with over 60 sessions (plus a bar camp at the end) is a massive achievement, and kudos to especially Richard Wood, plus also all the INZ staff, for delivering a high quality event. InternetNZ subsidise it by a six figure sum so that registration for it is only $40.

Should also mention the Showgizmo smartphone app. I found it pretty useful. It had the schedule for the conference in it, so very easy to check what was on. You could select which sessions you wanted to attend, and it would show you just those, and/or give you calendar reminders for them. It also had the names and twitter feeds for all 500 delegates. Plus as a bonus if you scanned in someone’s ID tag on your smartphone, then it would add them to your favourites. Could do with some tweaking to interface with programmes like Outlook more, but overall a pretty good app for event organisers and attendees to use.

I was involved in a few sessions. I chaired a session on copyright and the Internet which had around 300 people attend. The video will be on the website for those are interested. Some good discussion, and the best point made was by chance the last. One of the lawyers there (Rochelle) said that a lot of problems would be solved if copyright law changed from focusing on copying to use. I thought that was a great idea. The Internet is a giant copying machine, as is each individual PC. Having laws against copying is like having laws against eating.

But what you can do is have laws on use of copyrighted material. If for example you copy a movie you purchase, just so you have it on a backup machine – then that is fine. But if you copy it and give it to someone – that is an infringement. And if you copy it and sell the copy to someone – that is a criminal offence. Focus on use, not copying.

There was also a good session on harmful speech on the Internet and the Law Commission’s proposals for a Communications Tribunal to deal with some of it, chaired excellently by Judge Harvey.  I retain some reservations about what may be proposed, but am waiting to see the details.

On the margins of Nethui, we saw the launch of the Fair Deal campaign about the TPP. I am a strong supporter of genuinely free trade agreements and also a strong supporter of the Fair Deal campaign. The campaign is calling on the NZ Government to maintain its current negotiating position of rejecting the elements of the US proposed intellectual property chapter, where they would require a change to our current IP laws or policies. I’ll blog more on the campaign as it goes. Feel free to check out the campaign website, and NBR has a story on the launch also.

I also took part in a panel on Open Government. Sadly there was little time for questions as there were two opening speakers and then seven panelists. My major point was that we should now look at amending the OIA to require pro-active release of certain Government information (such as Cabinet papers) after a certain period of time (say six months). This is not intended to change the criteria for release, but to recognise that people do not know what they don’t know, and hence what to ask for. An automatic pro-active release would open up Government considerably. I may draft a members’ bill to this end when I get the time and see if a backbench MP wants to submit it. I also see this as good for Government too, as knowing that all papers will automatically be released will ensure due care is taken in their drafting and approval.

Overall I thought it was a fabulous event, mainly due to the quality of the people there and their willingness to engage. Sarah Putt from Computerworld did not have a good initial impression, but Lance Wiggs’ response is one I endorse.

Talking of one of the keynote speakers, Pamela Jones Harbour, I would make this point. No she was not a Lawrence Lessig, but what she did do was not just deliver a keynote address, but actually stayed for the whole conference and participated in many of the sessions. Personally I thought it pretty cool that a former US Federal Trade Commissioner stayed on and participated the way she did. Also notable was that Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff didn’t just turn up for one session, but was there for at least two days, and engaging in multiple sessions. Nethui isn’t like other conference where it is all about the keynote speakers (even though I agree they are important), but it is about the engagement.

UPDATE: Almost forgot the highlight. As part of the digital divide panel, we heard from Emma whose family had benefited from the computers in homes programmes. Emma told us her life story including losing her kids for a while, drugs, crime but how computers in homes had made such a big difference to her and her kids, and how well her family are doing now. She was on the verge of tears speaking about her mistakes (and speaking to 500 strangers is daunting for most people), and most of the audience were emotionally captivated. She got the sole standing ovation of Nethui, and made things very real.

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