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 www.philb.com/webse.htm 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 identi.ca, and on Google+

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


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  1. icon
    Richard (profile), 11 Sep 2012 @ 6:19am

    Re: copyright

    I doubt there's a single case anywhere of any copyright holder insisting on licenses to avoid infringement via web caching or indexing, so that $150 billion is neither here nor there. Most copyrightholders are perfectly happy with normal exceptions and many grant free licenses for certain uses.

    Maybe true - but the point is that that is not what the law says. The law says that you have to ask permission every time. Now this has been worked around to some extent by case law re-classifying "ephemeral copies" (or somesuch words) as non-infringing - but these judicial tweaks don't really address the root of the problem - which is a law designed for horses trying to cope with spaceships.


    What you guys never, ever, talk about is the way enormous tech companies like Google and the ISPs make a huge amount of money out of the wholesale infringement of copyright, via placing ads on pirate sites and charging extra for fast broadband,

    The ads on pirate sites bit is a lie. For the rest these companies make money by providing physical infrastructure and other services that people want such as search. Search benefits those who sell stuff (including copyrighted stuff) online by dramatically lowering the costs of publicity.
    and also wage expensive PR campaigns to prevent copyrightholders getting any kind of recompense from the activity.

    Rubbish - the people doing the campaigning are the rightholding middlemen - and they've been at it for over 300 years.

    Copyright supports and provides income from creators everywhere,

    No it doesn't. Making stuff people want and selling it at a price they are prepared to pay makes the money. Copyright does nothing but to allow middlemen to rip off the orginal creator.

    and everywhere it's being slowly eroded,

    Sadly it isn't. If it were then that would be great.

    leaving many creators with no income whatsoever to go on creating their art.

    Sob story number 354. Sorry we've heard that one for 300 years - and we don't believe it - because it simply isn't true.

    In the meantime Big Tech continues to make large profits out of 'free' music, books, and films, while investing nothing in their creation.

    As above the big tech companies make money by making real scarce stuff and selling it at a fair price.
    It's not a fight about 'freedom' or 'free speech', or anything else similar. It's a fight about who gets the 'right' to rip off creators. It used to be music labels and publishers, now it's Big Tech.

    No it's still the publishers. The tech companies make their money honestly (by comparison).

    You'd have a bit more credibility round here

    Round where - not round anywhere I'm familiar with!

    if you actually addressed what's really going on, rather than continuing to pursue an adolescent agenda which basically says "we should be free to steal whatever we want".

    Modify the last line to say something like "we should be able to do some work once and live in luxury for the rest of our lives" and apply to yourself.

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