Australian surveyors have welcomed the Copyright Tribunal of Australia’s determination, awarding them a fair share of the proceeds to the NSW Government from sale of survey plans.

For more than a decade, surveyors have been seeking recognition for the value of their work, and a royalty from the NSW government’s sale of their plans. The plans are sold directly by the NSW government, and through information brokers. Plans are sold for about $12 by the government and up to $30 by information brokers.

Governments don’t need the copyright permissions usually required, due to special privileges in the Copyright Act. They do, however, have to make arrangements for fair payment to the creators of content they use. Copyright Agency, a not-for-profit rights management organisation, is appointed by the Commonwealth Government to manage these arrangements with Commonwealth and State Governments.

The surveyors made it clear from the outset that they weren’t looking for payment for each and every use of survey plans by governments. There are a range of administrative uses the government makes in reliance on the special provisions, but without payment. The surveyor’s concern was governments making money from their plans, which they thought was unfair. They never sought to stop the sale of the plans, but they did want a share of the proceeds.

After their long battle for recognition and fair recompense, surveyors are now worried about recent proposals from the Australian Law Reform Commission. The ALRC’s proposals would dismantle the special provisions for governments, and replace them with a highly uncertain legal framework. Surveyors are opposing the proposals, which they say are not based on commercial reality, and would undermine the recognition that has been so hard-won. After an initial six years of failed negotiation, followed by another 10 years of litigation going all the way to the High Court of Australia, surveyors are well aware of the difficulties, time and costs involved in attempting to negotiate fair terms for use of their work.

Copyright Agency Director of Policy, Libby Baulch said that this lengthy and very costly legal case on behalf of surveyors, which is not typical under the current system, might become more commonplace if the ALRC’s proposals are implemented.