Government opposes Fair Use copyright reform
The government has signaled it will reject proposals to scrap existing copyright exceptions and replace them with the US concept of Fair Use.
That was among the contentious recommendations by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). The ALRC’s final report in its inquiry into copyright and the digital economy was tabled in parliament today.
Its draft proposals had been opposed by virtually all sectors of the film, TV, radio and publishing industries including the Screen Producers Australia, Free TV Australia, Screenrights, News Limited, Foxtel, the Australian Copyright Council, the Australian Directors Guild and the Australian Writers Guild.
The Fair Use concept would mean copyrighted material could be reproduced without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of Fair Use include commentary, search engines, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.
Tabling the report, Attorney General Senator George Brandis said, “These recommendations will no doubt be controversial and the government will give them very careful consideration.”
Consistent with his statements before the election, Brandis continued, “We are particularly concerned to ensure that no prejudice is caused to the interests of rights holders and creators, whether the proposed fair use exception offers genuine advantages over the existing fair dealing provisions and that any changes maintain and, where possible, increase incentives to Australia’s creative content producers.
“Australia’s creative industries are not just a vital part of our culture, they are also a thriving sector of our economy. The Australian screen production industry contributes $752 million and directly employs 13,000 people in full-time work.
“But those who create the great Australian films, the great Australian television dramas, the great Australian albums, depend upon robust intellectual property laws to protect their creative endeavours. Just like any other workers in our economy, they are entitled to the fruit of their efforts.
“Without strong, robust copyright laws, they are at risk of being cheated of the fair compensation for their creativity, which is their due. As I know from my many discussions with members of the industry, they are looking to the government to ensure that their interests are protected, and this, the government will do.”
In the US the only recourse for copyright holders who believe copyright has been infringed is to take legal action.
The ADG estimated that an individual would need to spend at least $250,000 to challenge a case of Fair Use in an Australia court, beyond the reach of 90% of content creators. Screenrights said litigation in the Copyright Tribunal costs between $500,000 and $2 million per case.
The ALRC also recommended amending the Copyright Act to clarify the statutory licensing scheme; limiting the remedies available for copyright infringement to encourage the use of ‘orphan works’; reforming broadcasting exemptions; and amending the Copyright Act to limit contracting out terms.
Free TV welcomed the ALRC's retransmission recommendation, which it said recognises that subscription television providers benefit commercially because they are able to provide free-to-air channels as part of their packages without having to negotiate a commercial fee, or conditions, with broadcasters.
It said the recommendation that a repeal of the current scheme should be considered must be urgently addressed so that broadcasts are protected in the same way as other copyright materials.