Protecting copyright is crucial to fostering creativity

December 11, 2017 | Uncategorized

This opinion piece was published in The Australian newspaper today.

By Kim Williams AM

The issues of copyright and respect for creators is a great policy challenge in Australian creative life. The rights of creators are under siege on many fronts:

  • no consideration to who loses out when books, music, TV or films are illegally downloaded
  • large enterprises using great volumes of educational content and not wanting to pay
  • technology leaders whose businesses are based on free­riding off the content of others
  • a widespread and corrosive ideology that says, “Hey dude, information wants to be free, I am not paying for your or anyone else’s work”

Digital technology is one of the most powerful forces in history. The internet has no respect for the establishment and is a furiously strong levelling agent.

Nothing and no one is safe. Merit, ingenuity, speed, flexibility and the quality of one’s ­performance rule the day.

This is a fascinating force. A power for good or bad in equal measure. But one thing is clear — the unparalleled empowerment to invention and creativity, with entirely new ways of working. The challenge for all of us is to ensure that we find ways of harnessing this power for all forms of creativity while respecting creators’ inalienable rights over the use of their works.

There are three ways of achieving this.

First, writers must do what they have always done — tell great stories. Companies who take these stories to the public, must do so across all platforms in ways that work for consumers.

Second, we need to win the hearts and minds of Australians and ensure that they consume legal content rather than steal. Research from Creative Content Australia suggests that we are making progress here, with growth in theft starting to level out.

Third, we need laws that ­support creators — whether they be laws that allow for the prosecution of digital thieves, or copyright laws that unequi­vocally support the principle that ­creators should control what they produce.

This is where the Productivity Commission in its report into our intellectual property regime got it so wrong. The commission ­appeared to believe that by making recommendations that would eviscerate the ability of creators to control the use of their work and ability to receive a fair payment for it, that they would create a regulatory environment in which you would suddenly see a Silicon Valley springing up in, say, Adelaide.

The truth is they sought to sacrifice artists on the altar of their own confused ideology. The report was evidence free, while unusually rich with ideology. The commission was silent about the factors that really drive innovation: certainty in regulation; a culture that supports risk-taking with access to capital; and access to talent and skills.

The government and opposition responses to that unusually recalcitrant report were encouraging and showed that the reasoned voices of our ­creative community had an ­impact on decision-making.

We must remain vigilant — there are still review processes continuing. We should be fearless in defending intellectual property because that’s where a huge repository of our future wealth reposes.

The community is with creators — and as the case is prosecuted, I have never been more convinced of that as a heartening absolute. Common Australian decency is on our side and will ensure that creators and their precious voice wins through.

Originality is hard to come by and so too that rare gift — disciplined talent that produces great work. Copyright protects that work. We must, at all costs, ­protect Australian copyright.

Kim Williams is chairman of the Copyright Agency. This is an edited version of a speech given in Sydney on November 30.