Copyright Agency lodges action in Copyright Tribunal against Universities Australia

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Dear members,

I am writing to inform you that we have lodged an action in the Copyright Tribunal today to determine the value of the copyright licences Australian universities rely on to copy and share content.

The action comes after a breakdown in commercial negotiations with Universities Australia, for a new licensing agreement, beginning in 2019. UA represents 39 Australian universities in these discussions.

The Copyright Agency’s licence covers copyright material that is a core input into teaching at Australia’s 39 universities. It covers more than 10 million pages (digital and hard copy) annually – for the sector’s 1.4 million students, 60,000 academics and 70,000 professional staff.

The annual cost of the university licence is currently $32.5m, or 9 cents per student per day. The fee has been decreasing in real terms, given inflation, the rapid growth in student numbers and the fact there has been a huge increase in the platforms available for copying and sharing material.

The current copyright fee represents 0.11% of total universities expenditure of $28.6 billion (in 2016).

The explosion of digital content has radically changed the way universities provide educational content to students. The educational statutory licence, which Copyright Agency administers, provides access to an enormous amount of material, including material that is printed, digitally stored and communicated to students across multiple digital platforms.

Licence fees support the Australian educational publishing industry to continue to produce high-quality educational material. Not paying a fair rate undermines the ability of publishers, authors and artists to invest, innovate and develop more Australian content.

We’ll be asking the Tribunal to assess the value of these licences in the digital age; the best method of pricing the licence, and to revisit the ways we monitor how much material is being accessed under the licence.

There are much better ways of capturing usage than the current approach – such as via the provision of full digital records – that would ensure accurate payments to copyright creators, including academics in Australian universities.

We will also be asking the Tribunal to rule on the interim rate that UA should pay in licence fees until such times as the Tribunal makes a ruling. We want to ensure that we are in a position to provide members with continuity of payment during the proceedings. This actual interim rate and associated terms are subject to the Tribunal’s decision.

Recent simplification amendments to the Copyright Act provided an opportunity for the Copyright Agency to simplify and enhance the licensing arrangements with UA but, unfortunately, UA has not engaged in discussions.

Our action in the Copyright Tribunal will redefine the value of copyright material to the higher education sector in the digital age.

I will keep you updated on this action as it progresses.

Adam Suckling