Copyright Agency response to ‘Copyright row must end’

December 15, 2016

Australians artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers have a right to receive fair payment for their work. The sweeping changes to Australian copyright laws being cheered on by Fairfax journalist Peter Martin, the Productivity Commission as well as American big tech companies will see these protections taken away.

In his opinion piece in today’s SMH and Age, Mr Martin writes that changing our copyright laws will be our entry ticket to the modern world because Australia’s copyright laws are too specific.

He writes that universities can’t get ahead because their nimble competitors in the three countries where the copyright doctrine he touts exists – the US, Israel and Singapore – have an enormous advantage over them.

Really? Australia has some of the best universities in the world with students around the world queuing up to study here. It was only last month that Universities Australia, which represents 39 universities, published results that international students generated a record $20.3 billion in income for Australia this year. This is up eight per cent from the previous 12 months. To say that copyright is holding them back is, frankly, bizarre.

Schools too, Mr Martin says, are penalised because they have to pay for using copyright material.

Let’s look at the facts.

Australian copyright laws have been developed and updated regularly – making our copyright system one of the world’s most admired. Why? Because our blanket copyright licences allow schools and universities to copy and share everything published in the world for less than the cost of a book for every student, and they do – some 1.5 billion pages of valuable teaching content every year.

That money is paid by education departments and universities to us, the Copyright Agency, and we distribute it to our 43,000 members who are the owners of the copyright material – that includes ex-teachers who have become educational authors, publishers, journalists, book illustrators and artists.

These fair payments generate a whole lot of new Australian-made content for our students and students around the world. For instance, anyone with school-age children will have heard of our member 3P Learning’s Mathletics and Reading Eggs. 3P Learning’s copyright royalties, earned over decades, underpin their investment in new digital learning platforms – that are used the world over.

Other members include people such as Anna Funder whose Miles Franklin award-winning book, Stasiland, is on high school curricula. It also includes the author of the Australian classic There’s A Hippopotamus on the Roof Eating Cake, Hazel Edwards. Naturally, they feel strongly about the need to keep their copyright royalties flowing.

In the US, where copyright is less specific there is a much higher level of confusion leading to litigation – something that cash-strapped creatives can ill afford. In fact PWC estimated moving to the approach Mr Martin favours would cost our economy over $1 billion dollars – because there would be less Australian produced content, more job losses and higher copyright litigation costs.

So, unlike Mr Martin, I’m sure Australia is a leader in the modern world – but he, his economist colleagues at the Productivity Commission and the US big tech sector would have you believe otherwise. They hold a candle for a business model which is based on the use of Australian content for free. That’s not innovation, that’s a rip-off.

Their push to introduce an unfair US copyright doctrine will rob our Australian creators of fair payment for the hard work they do and imperil the jobs of young Australians. So there will be less opportunities for the next generation of creatives such as Jimmy Barnes, Magda Szsubanski or Jessica Mauboy.

There is room for improvement in copyright but let’s stick with the facts and remember that Australia’s creative eco-system produces books, songs, movies and TV shows that we love and robust copyright powers all of that.

Adam Suckling


Copyright Agency


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