The injunction slapped on Channel Nine to stop them showing the new drama Underbelly in Victoria is yet another example of the law failing to keep up with technology.
Underbelly is a dramatisation of some relatively recent events, some of which are the subject of an ongoing criminal trial here in Melbourne. It's thought, probably quite reasonably, that the content of the show could prejudice the trial.
But anyone who wants to watch Underbelly can easily download it from file sharing sites. Anyone who didn't already know this was helped along by wide reporting of the fact in the mainstream media, and there were torrents up within hours of its broadcast in Sydney.
This sort of thing is starting to crop up more and more as the pace of technological advancement increases, and it's not going to stop.
For a long time in Australia it was illegal to put anything on your iPod to which you didn't personally own the copyright. When was this changed? Not until late 2006, five years after the iPod first appeared. It's worth noting that the same act finally made it legal to tape TV shows and watch them later, thirty years after the arrival of VHS.
But this Underbelly situation is a bit trickier. In this case it's not just the written law that's out of date. It's the process of application of the law that's out of date.
And if the former can take years to correct, then the latter could take decades.
But here we are. The question that must be answered is . . . how do you restrict the viewing of a show in a local area, when we have a global network from which to easily get it?
The short answer is . . . you can't. The technology is there. It's not going to go away and it's not going to change. It's the law that will have to change.
But of course, something like that doesn't change easily. While the change is inevitable, so is the huge amount of resistance that will accompany it.
We're seeing this sort of resistance already among the major TV networks, who are fighting tooth and nail against digital distribution of their content.
The problem there is that the networks are clinging to a distribution model developed fifty years ago when the only other things competing for viewers were cinemas and the wireless. There are now much better distribution models out there. But rather than embracing all this new technology as an opportunity to expand their viewer numbers, they're fighting to keep their old outdated models alive.
The really interesting thing is that the networks are trying to use the law to do their fighting for them. So when the lawyers start understanding that the law needs to change for precisely the same reasons . . . there should be some interesting times ahead.