Australia Says 'Let's Update Copyright For The Digital Economy;' Legacy Industries Say 'Let's Pretend It's Still 1968'

from the because-1968-was-a-hell-of-a-year-for-all-concerned dept

The results are in for Australia’s request for comments on reforming copyright policy — and the submissions are, unfortunately, unsurprising. (The entire “Copyright and The Digital Economy” questionnaire is embedded below.) The legacy industries like things the way they are, (except for file sharing) and are only requesting changes that would lead to more licensing opportunities and greater fees.

As far as orphan works are concerned, nearly every entrenched publisher believes that they should get to control how these works are sold.

Walker Books Australia [RTF]

Our preference would be for the creation of a collective licensing scheme for such works, along the lines of the Canadian system. There the Copyright Board has the right to issue a non-exclusive licence for the use of orphan works after reasonable efforts have been made to find the rights holder. Fees are then distributed among members after a certain number of years. Whatever model is chosen, it should be based on authorisation by a formal collective licensing body rather than taking the form of an exception. Also, importantly, there should be no assumption or requirement that moral rights have been waived.

Basically, publishers would like to have “non-exclusive” licenses granted to publish orphan works, but only after a “reasonable effort” has been made to locate the rights holders. After an arbitrary amount of time, these fees will be redistributed to participating parties.

Non-participating parties would be guilty of copyright infringement if they released these works on their own or secured copies, presumably. Again, the public will not be allowed to benefit from these works, but instead, must go through the usual gatekeepers to acquire copies. Despite these being “non-exclusive” licenses, it appears that only participating publishers will be allowed to profit from these works. No clarification is given in terms of what happens to these works once the arbitrary waiting period is over and the monies redistributed. Public domain? Back to the “orphan works” pile to be re-exploited for another X number of years?

Additional exceptions for private, domestic or non-commercial use are off the table as well. The argument seems to be that even though people are sharing content in a non-commercial context, the sharing takes place on commercial services like Youtube or Facebook. This is viewed as another opportunity for licensing, hopefully paid for by the deep pockets of corporations rather than by individuals. What’s ignored is that when a person shares a song, photo or video with someone else, they’re doing it without any desire for personal financial gain or to harm the creators. But maximalists tend to find something innately wrong with these situations. Here’s Walker’s take on non-commercial sharing.

We are seeing a lot of examples of Books being taken and read/shown on YouTube – they are therefore being shown in a public and not a private forum and so being shared without consent…

Where does one begin and the other end? Someone’s “private” reading on YouTube for instance, although non-commercial, could undermine the legitimate marketing activity of the author or publisher – or certainly deminishes [sic] its impact.

First off, I find it hard to believe that someone would consider watching a video of someone reading an acceptable substitution for purchasing a book. Second, what are you doing about it other than complaining? Have you uploaded your own readings? Maybe one from the author? Have you claimed the video for monetization? Unless you’re making a few moves of your own, it’s a bit disingenuous to complain about someone doing your marketing for you.

Yes, Youtube is a commercial entity but as an aggregate. Individual users are generally not uploading their own readings as part of a business plan. It’s usually because they’re a fan of the book and they’re sharing stuff they like with others. This is a good thing.

The performance rights organizations have also sent in a response, one filled with misrepresentations and and the sort of entitlement that has served it well for so many years. It starts on the wrong foot and gets worse.


APRA|AMCOS are concerned that references to the “constant debate” about whether copyright law acts as an incentive to production of new material are a distraction from what should be the focus of this Inquiry…

Yes. Let’s not talk about how expanded copyright law that fails to meet the needs of the digital age might be stifling production of new material, BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT PROMPTED THIS ENTIRE PROCESS. Let’s just ignore the debate and keep things the way they’ve been since 1968 because nearly a half-century down the road nothing has changed except everything.

Copyright encourages creativity. Exceptions should only be enacted where there is an overriding social benefit that justifies a limitation on the property rights of the copyright owner. Anecdotes about how creators are not motivated by economic considerations have been used to suggest that creators are economically irrational and therefore should not participate in markets for their works. This is wrong. Copyright is a grant of property rights that enables authors to commercialise their products and maintain the integrity of their creative output.

This is a willful misrepresentation of the views of those who question the incentive value of copyright. No one has stated that just because some creators create without financial incentive that no creators should seek to make money, or even enjoy the protections of copyright. What is actually stated is that many artists were successful before the days of expanded copyright protection, and despite it, which would indicate that copyright protection isn’t nearly as crucial as the copyright industries paint it.

APRA|AMCOS on Mashups (Transformative Use)

Australia has a sophisticated licensing regime that permits a large number of new businesses to operate using copyright material. To the extent that not all such businesses survive, there is no evidence that this is related to anything other than the operation of normal competitive market forces.

Except when it’s your business that is threatened and may not survive. Then it’s time for legislators to step in and “save some jobs” or whatever angle gets the playing field “leveled” fastest.

APRA|AMCOS on adopting US-style “fair use” laws and statutory rights

[I]t is clear that copyright owners in Australia cannot act as potently to prevent online infringements as can copyright owners in the US, whether against the infringing customer or the infringing internet service provider.

Infringing service provider? There’s an unlikely term. If you’re thinking of getting your hands on US-style statutory rights, you might want to keep in mind that ISPs are not responsible for the actions of their customers, unlike in Australia. Infringing customer? The hell does that mean? What it sounds like is that even paying customers are shortchanging rights holders somehow, but in reality, it’s just APRA|AMCOS trying to tie the ISP to its infringing subscribers. In other words, APRA/AMCOS wants the power to litigate against both ISPs and individuals, but will cede nothing to fair use or any other US-style policies that benefit the public at large. Or in pirate parlance, “Take all ye can. Give nothing back.”

So far, so much of the same worn-out arguments for greater enforcement, more licensing and less of anything that favor the general public. The biggest backlash seems to be saved for any discussion of moving Australia’s fair dealing laws in the direction of America’s fair use laws.

International Publisher’s Assoc. [PDF]

If the aim is indeed to avoid or abolish barriers to innovation, then the introduction of “fair use” provisions would be a highly unusual path to take, a path that has been adopted by only four countries worldwide, but rejected by many. The introduction of a fair use doctrine would:

• create legal uncertainty and hence an atmosphere hostile to creative innovation and freedom of speech;
• violate Australia’s obligations under international copyright treaties, in particular the “three step test” of the Berne Convention, WCT and TRIPS;
• require the introduction or importation of an entire body of legal precedents, adjudications and case law into Australian jurisdiction, the introduction and interpretation of which would carry with it unpredictable legal risks.

A “fair use” doctrine works (more or less) well in a US context because of its roots in more than 150 years of case law, and significant – 35 years – experience with interpreting its codified version. It is exactly this long history that alleviates (but not silences) concerns regarding legal certainty, freedom of speech and violation of international treaty, but many commentators remain concerned also with regard to the US context.

This is one of the most ridiculous arguments against fair use I’ve ever read. (And I’ve read it twice: the MPAA used the same argument in its submission) Sure, fair use may create “legal uncertainty,” but that’s only because so many rights holders are convinced that there should be no unlicensed use of their creations… ever. It’s this hardline approach that creates “legal uncertainty” — not the fair use itself.

As for fair use being “hostile” to free speech and innovation — well, that’s just completely wrong. Copyright has been abused to stifle criticism multiple times, often as a “Plan B” when it appears that proving defamation or libel might be tricky (or impossible). Fair use increases free speech, not the other way around.

And I’d really like to see the International Publishers Association prove that fair use harms innovation. The MPAA’s own “respect our authority” response to the call for submissions states that it relies on fair use as part of its creative process. (Mere sentences later, though, it warns Australia that fair use isn’t for them, so don’t even think about adopting it.) Greater IP protection is what’s actually harming innovation as it exposes new entries into the market to increased legal action. One needs to look no further than the debacle d/b/a/ the patent system for evidence of stifled innovation.

The final argument dealing with the US fair use system and its “built in” history is a non-starter. While importing case law and precedent would bring “unpredictable risks,” expanding the current “fair dealing” to closer match fair use laws would be a good start. At some point, every country has to create its own precedent, something that’s impossible to do if everyone keeps worrying that a new law won’t appear fully formed with years of precedence behind it. This argument pops up in the MPAA’s paper as well. Apparently, Australia is just supposed to cede to the logical fallacy built into the ourobouros-esque reasoning that “fair use works in the US because of years of precedence but won’t work anywhere else because no precedent has been set.” You can’t set precedence if you’re unwilling to institute fair use and, you know, start setting some precedent of your own.

APRA|AMCOS on Fair Use

The uncertainty engendered by an open fair use exception is likely, as in the US, to give rise to considerable litigation that would defeat the purpose of adopting such an exception. It is likely that fair use would be raised as a defence to many allegations of copyright infringement, adding significantly to costs of legal advice and to the costs of litigation.

Once again, copyright apparently should only work as a deterrent, rather than an inspiration. The power to censor through copyright must remain intact. Because piracy. (Or something.)

It all seems to boil down to “We like what we have right now, but some more would be even better.” The protections granted during the analog era hardly match up with the digital reality, but somehow these copyright-reliant industries believe the future belongs to the past. No concessions are made to current reality. If any changes are made, they want to make damn sure they’re the only beneficiaries.

It’s not all bad news from the normal players, though. A few more reasonable responses made their way into the submission pile. A group of literary agents makes a couple of good points.

Australian Literary Agents Assoc. [RTF]

Currently only moral rights are an absolute rights. More rights must be made absolute, for example statutory rights. Some organizations demand these rights be taken away from the creator. Many organizations are bullish contractually with creators in regard to statutory rights. Accordingly a lot of money goes to international corporations instead of Australian creators.

Most people want to do the right thing and compensate the creators of copyright for the use of their work in other forms – give people the means to do this. Make it easy for them to pay the copyright owners, no matter how small the payment is.

And a submission by Richard A. Marschall of Marschall Acoustic Instruments [RTF] completely flips the script, going full on towards the sort of copyright minimalism we proudly espouse here at the ‘dirt.

I don’t think the digital environment really has changed anything. What has changed over time is that copyright law here has been following that of the USA which serves some big media company interests but acts against artists and smaller media companies…

If the taxpayer paid for the creation of the content then it should be free to use by all. The system of the public pays and pays and pays … does much to diminish respect for the law…

Brief quotes for purposes of comment, analysis, or parody should be allowed. The USA used to have something called “fair use doctrine”, it is time to revive it. Also, the length of copyright, especially for music and recordings, and perhaps even films, needs to be shortened to something like 10 or 15 years. History should not be copyrighted…

Libraries and universities should be able to copy everything that they bought a copy of. They should not have to keep on paying and paying and paying when the media wears out…

His whole response text is worth reading, but sadly, one of the few to go against the prevailing winds of maximalism. Australia’s attempt to update its copyright laws faces an uphill battle against those who like it the way it is, or even better, the way it was. Nearly fifty years down the road from the last update of its copyright laws and a majority of the respondents prefer stasis to moving ahead.


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Comments on “Australia Says 'Let's Update Copyright For The Digital Economy;' Legacy Industries Say 'Let's Pretend It's Still 1968'”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

so, as per usual and mainly thanks to the US entertainment industries totally bolshy attitude, the people are being excluded in preference to big corporations that want to change nothing except have more rights given to them whereby they can get more money even from works that they have no right to. they also want politicians to believe (and they no doubt will because of the ‘encouragement they will be given!) that copyright encourages creativity. what absolute bollocks! sure, if a person invents something, he should be accredited but the invention should be available to be improved, not locked away for 100 years. the chances are that he used something from someone else to spur his invention in the first place!

Chris Brand says:


Well personally, I’m quite happy to see these arguments from the MPAA and friends about fair use, because I fully intend to tell my government “As the MPAA have told the Australian government [citation], changing any law creates too much legal uncertainty due to the lack of precedent and case history. Therefore, it’s too dangerous to ratify CETA/TPP”.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because the people passing laws based upon that sort of rot aren’t buying anything, they are being bought.

As for why the entertainment industry keeps going back to such a laughable claim… well, we’re not exactly talking about inventive people here (except when it’s comes time to pay actors/directors/musicians of course), and if the politicians are going to keep believing it, why change?

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because it’s both the truth and a lie. While copyright was thought up as a replacement to the Stationers’ Company monopoly the debate around such a measure came up with this idea. You provide limited term rights to profit from work to the creator of that work (which can be transferred of course) and that would give creators a reason to create and keep on creating.

This was later codified in the US Constitution (which given the prevalence of American influence in these laws is one of the key ideas) in giving the power to congress to create copyright but only for a limited time to “promote progress”.

So all in all copyright is intend to encourage creativity. It’s just that everything about copyright that was intended to do that has been undermined by extensions and the reasons for the laws, to promote public good, forgotten.

Yet the point remains that “copyright encourages creativity” is not exactly a lie… you just have to be care about what form of copyright we are talking about.

The best lies have a seed of truth and the entertainment industry has become adept at twisting the truth of the debate to fit their framing. It’s the same game they play when calling infringement theft and talks about fair use as exceptions to copyright rather than the other way around.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There is a great article somewhere about these parts about this use of langue. Copyright is an exception to your natural rights but the industry insists on calling fair use “exceptions to copyright”. This is called framing and it’s an attempt to have the wording used in the debate about fair use promote a view of copyright that benefits them.

If they can have legislators talking about fair use as exceptions to copyright the impaction is that copyright is a much broader and more “natural” right that in actually the case and that then effects the decisions being made.

It’s the same reason they call copyright theft and try and make an equivalence between some one plagiarizing your work and some one sharing it. By having the debate in those terms they automatically win.

jameshogg says:

Why is it that you hardly hear of ARTISTS?calling for copyright extensions? Why is it always companies, nowadays?

When I hear of labels who give artists mere pennies for downloads, use their work without the artists’ permission (even when the morals of the copyright mantra they chant over and over insist that artists must get final say on their own fucking work and not some free-riding, leeching third party who did nothing to participate in the creative process), and then ask for copyright extensions supposedly in the name of “defending artists’ rights”, I find that profoundly insulting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Before the Internet, the period over which a work earned royalties was often short. An artists estate often got a boost in funds on an artist death, as the label reissued works, or a commemorative album. The same probably applies post Internet, as overheads will kill any royalty payments when sales are reduced to a low volume.
Th label and other publishers have bought in to the Intellectual property idea, and so wish to extend copyright so that they keep their property. Equating copyright, patents and trademarks to property is a clever piece of spin to make it easier to strengthen the laws and extend the terms.

anonymouse says:


All this is doing it producing new laws to be ignored. until they have an honest change to copyright laws nobody is going to support them. Once a system is created where every person sharing a file is anonymised i doubt they will change and once everyone is anonymised completely then they will eventually start talking to the people and asking how they can be convinced to come back to paying for content, they are just making it much harder for themselves than is necessary.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Anecdotes about how creators are not motivated by economic considerations have been used to suggest that creators are economically irrational and therefore should not participate in markets for their works. This is wrong.”


hooboy, that dude nailed you guys. No wonder this story got your panties in such a twist…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Do you have reading comprehension issues or are you just playing dumb again?

Anecdotes about how creators are not motivated by economic considerations, such as, “Mozart and Beethoven didn’t have copyright” and “artists will make art whether they are paid or not” are seen here every week. They are used to suggest that creators are economically irrational and therefore should not participate in markets for their works.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually that is NOT where they got it from and is a made up quote by the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) misquoting and misrepresenting William Patry in How to Fix Copyright (Oxford University Press, New York, 2011), p15-16 and S Ricketson and C Cresswell in The Law of Intellectual Property: Copyright, Designs and Confidential Information, Lawbook Co, para 1.45 [Sometimes I wish idiot organisations would stick to one citation style – though I don’t expect much from the likes of APRA]

You on the other hand have put in your own spin into their fallacious context making it even worse and more laughable. Or maybe your one of the authors of the submission? hmmmm? or just a shill of APRA

As for your question towards JMT, it seems the answer to the same question asked of you is Yes to both.

G Thompson (profile) says:

There are some great submission too

The major players within Australia that are against the ALRC’s proposals might be vehemently opposed to anything that could interfere with their outdated and obsolete business practices but happily they are up against a whole lot of very powerful opposing proposals that absolutely destroy all their arguments and do it in a very succinct, unemotional and evidential manner.

I would recommend everyone who wants an insight into copyright and how it effects consumers, business, government, innovation, and education not just in Australia but worldwide to take some time and read the following submissions.

Though I highly recommend the ACCC’s submission and being a govt body themselves with their huge powers (especially under consumer law) scares the crap out of the likes of the MPAA/AFACT etc.

All links point to pdf files

iiNet – Yes the ISP AFACT/MPAA want to blame for this whole review in first place

ACCC – Australian Competition and Consumer Comission (our version of the US FTC)
An amazing, well drafted, thoughful and quite eye opening submission from an Australian government body (it’s going to be a must inclusion in my reader list for next semesters uni classes I’m teaching)

Optus Australia – of note is their submission on Copying for Private Use (page 20) which goes into the latest court case they lost regarding online PVR

Electronic Frontiers Australia – our version of the EFF

Universities Australia – the body that represents 39 Australian Universities

Civil Liberties Australia

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