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
    Mike Masnick (profile), 11 Sep 2012 @ 7:25am

    Re: copyright

    Somewhat disingenuous - 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.

    Actually, if you follow these discussions, the licensing of caching/indexing is a big deal right now. There are the efforts in Germany and France to charge for indexing. Plus there was a big legal fight in the US (Cablevision) about caching and whether or not that needed to be licensed. Similarly, there was language at one time in ACTA and TPP regarding caching. Saying that these are not actually being debated shows an ignorance of some of the bigger legal fights going on these days.

    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, and also wage expensive PR campaigns to prevent copyrightholders getting any kind of recompense from the activity.

    Almost none of that is true, but it appears you've bought the bullshit line of some ignorant and uninformed people. First of all, the idea that Google makes money off of infringement is silly. Have some ads showed up on bad sites -- sure. But Google seems to take them down pretty quickly. Case in point: part of the evidence against Megaupload was the fact that Google killed its ads on their site way back in 2007.

    Separately, those ads are all cost-per-click, meaning no one makes any money unless people click. Do you really think that people are going to these sites to click on ads? A study done by Columbia university last year showed that most of these linking sites make very, very little money.

    The idea that ISPs make money from broadband is simply ludicrous. The ISPs all charge flat rates for the most part, and infringement tends to use up more bandwidth, so such things tend to COST them more.

    Meanwhile, we've covered tons of stories of Google and the ISPs cracking down on infringement, frequently how they go way above and beyond the law in doing so.

    Oh, and the idea that they wage campaigns to make sure artists don't get paid is ridiculous. Google has had multiple programs that help artists get paid, including ContentID which has made a bunch of artists a ton of money (while being super over aggressive on copyright). At the same time, they've been providing artists a platform to host and stream music and video... entirely for free, and you bitch about it? Aren't you feeling entitled today?

    Basically nothing you state here has any basis in reality.

    Copyright supports and provides income from creators everywhere

    No, copyright sets up a specific business model, which tends to lead to a very small number of creators making money, while most make very little, if any. Copyright does not support anyone. In the meantime, we've seen alternative business models, which don't rely on copyright, help creators make much more money.

    and everywhere it's being slowly eroded

    In the last 100 years copyright has expanded only. It has never contracted. The idea that it's been "eroded" is a historical farce.

    You haven't said a single truthful thing here.

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

    Again, time and time again we've seen that any artist who really embraces new business models tends to make MORE money than they did before. It's those who don't adapt who are struggling, but that's got nothing to do with copyright. It has everything to do with a changing market.

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

    Investing nothing other than providing you the most amazing platform for creation, promotion, distribution and monetization ever... and all for free? You may be the most ungrateful, uninformed person on this subject ever.

    It's not a fight about 'freedom' or 'free speech', or anything else similar.

    It is when completely clueless people want to expand copyright even further in ways that clearly impact free speech.

    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.

    Try living in reality for once.

    You'd have a bit more credibility round here if you actually addressed what's really going on

    We do. You have not.

    Try growing up.


    And you sum it up with an ad hom.

    Congrats on writing what may be the most uninformed comment here, ever. That takes work.

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