Industries Dependent On Copyright Exceptions Contribute $182 Billion To Australian Economy

from the not-too-shabby dept

Despite the absence of credible studies supporting the idea, part of the copyright maximalist dogma is that the wider the reach of copyright, and the stricter the application, the better. As a corollary, copyright exceptions are anathema, which is why the US and EU are still shamefully resisting an international treaty that would enable more books covered by copyright to be produced in versions suitable for the visually impaired, since it would create a minor exception to help make that happen.

Part of the difficulty in contesting this view is that there is also very little research showing that exceptions are important, especially for driving economic growth. That makes a new report called "Excepting the Future" (pdf), commissioned by the Australian Digital Alliance, and pointed out to us by @MsLods, a particularly important contribution to the debate.

It starts by explaining why traditional copyright, devised in an analogue world, is no longer working:

digital content cannot be handled without copying it. Thus in the digital world, the distinction between handling and copying a work has completely broken down. All handling of digital content, however helpful to society or rights holders, may prima facie be a breach of copyright, attracting liability to rights holders if they have not permitted it.
It goes on to draw a suggestive parallel:
This situation is dysfunctional. It is not unlike the state of air-space law at the point at which the development of aviation had rendered it obsolete. In the early twentieth century, following Roman Law, land owners held exclusive rights "up to Heaven and down to Hell" giving them impracticable veto powers over air routes.
It was only when legal certainty was established by crafting an exception that allowed aircraft to pass over private property that the aviation industry really developed; the report calls for similar liberating exceptions to be created in Australian copyright law, so as to bring it more in line with the US's looser and highly-successful fair-use framework.

Australia's current copyright system is ill-equipped to cope with key Internet activities like search and indexing, caching and hosting, since they all involve incidental copying. Theoretically, companies providing those services ought to seek licensing agreements with copyright holders to avoid infringement. The report calculates how much time and money would be required to do that in the case of search engines:

If the 170 search engines listed at transacted with all 3.8 million Australian domain name registrants [to obtain permission to allow their sites to be indexed], it would involve 645 million transactions. If each transaction took 9.5 hours [to allow for multiple communications and checks by the site regarding rights], then, at average weekly wages, the transaction costs would exceed $150 billion a year. And that is just for the Australian domain names.
As well as the huge costs that current Australian law would entail if applied to the letter, the report quantifies the contribution that industries making use of copyright exceptions contribute to the economy: 14% of Australia’s annual Gross Domestic Product, or $182 billion; they also employ 21% of its paid workforce, almost 2.4 million people. The report further estimates the contribution more flexible copyright exceptions, coupled with better safe harbors, would contribute to the economy: around $600 million annually.

Of course, these figures can, and probably will, be contested by those ideologically against copyright exceptions. But it's a start, and a welcome one in the context of the prevalent assumption that more copyright equates to more economic benefit.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+

Filed Under: australia, copyright, economy, exceptions, fair dealing, fair use, public domain

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2012 @ 4:59am

    Re: copyright

    It doesn't make much sense to impugn someone else's credibility when you sum your entire argument with name-calling and a blatantly erroneous conflation.

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