The Australian creative arts industry was blossoming in 1974, yet authors’ and artists’ rights weren’t being protected and their work was being copied frequently without their permission. The Copyright Agency was formed to stand up for creators and ensure respect for their work.

It was the year that Graham Bond said Farewell Aunty Jack and Olivia Newton John told us I Love You, I Honestly Love YouThe Mango Tree won the Miles Franklin Award for author Ronald McKie, Peter Weir directed The Cars That Ate Paris and action-fiction writer Matthew Reilly was born. It was 1974 and Copyright Agency was formed.

According to J. R. Kerrigan QC, a barrister commissioned in 1968 by the Australian Copyright Council, “state and university libraries, which offer coin-operated photocopying services to their readers are infringing the Copyright Act many times a day and secondary school teachers who give their pupils photocopies of extracts from textbooks are also committing infringements”.

It has since been estimated that, on average, each university student receives 500 copied pages a year and each school pupil 350 pages.

Today, such copying is covered by statutory licences. Schools pay just under $17 per year per student for copied works.

This is less than the cost of many text books, provides about twice the amount of content and is specifically tailored to students’ educational needs.

“The authors and publishers were up against a determined educational bureaucracy addicted to unlimited free copying without permission.” From Realising the Vision: A History of Copyright Agency Ltd 1974 – 2004

VOLUNTEERS CREATED CHANGE

The agency was formed by volunteers who campaigned for respect and financial recognition for Australian creators, largely in the educational sector. Some of these members were Frank Moorhouse and Tom Keneally (pictured), Peter Carey and Judith Wright. These were later joined by authors such as Blanche D’Alpuget, Les Murray and Dale Spender.

However, while there has been a greater recognition of the need to pay content creators for the use of their work, the changing digital landscape means the Copyright Agency still has a significant role to play today.

“Even after forty years there is a need for the voice of creators, such as writers, poets, publishers and artists to be heard by policy makers and institutions,” CEO Murray St Leger says.

“In this our 40th year, I would like to honour the determination and passion of our founding members, directors and supporters. They were all volunteers and it took more than a decade for them to establish the organisation as we know it today and to ensure that writers and artists were paid for the use of their work.

“Yet we also celebrate our modern role as an enabler of creative licensing solutions. This means offering digital resources for teachers, such as LearningField and Reading Australia.”

LearningField is a world-first Australian innovation delivering curriculum-linked, digital textbooks direct to teachers’ and Year 7-10 students’ devices for an annual subscription fee.

Reading Australia is a website containing curriculum-linked educational resources to make teaching Australian literature easy.

A BILLION AND A HALF COPIES A YEAR

According to Copyright Agency’s manager of surveys and monitoring, James Tweed, more than a billion and a half pages of photocopied and digital copies of copyrighted works are made in Australia’s schools and universities alone each year – and this does not take into account the billions of documents copied and exchanged in corporations, PR firms, and businesses great and small.

THE $16.10 REVOLUTION

It took more than 10 years before the first cheque was received by the Copyright Agency Limited in July 1985; it was for $16.10. In 1986, the agency received a $14,228 payment from Macquarie University – and after that everything changed.

Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been distributed to Australia’s creative community, providing thousands of people with fair recompense for the copying and sharing of their creative works.