Factual errors in article by Peter Martin

The following are factual errors in an article by Peter Martin entitled “Copyright denies millions proper access to books: ‘Fair use’ would fix it” (28 August 2016).

Statement in article


In Australia, we prevent blind people from reading books Of course we don’t.

Australia has a number of organisations that specialise in assisting people with disabilities, including by providing content in accessible formats. There are also specialist units in education institutions and education departments.

Australia has had copyright exceptions for people with disabilities for more than 35 years.

Australia also has one of the few publishers specialising in accessible formats for people with print disabilities.

Government inaction has denied millions of Australians with print disabilities access to books


Australia has had copyright exceptions for people with disabilities for more than 35 years. They include a flexible exception that enables conversion to an accessible format in any situation where that is fair according to the international standard.

Australia has already signed up to the international treaty for the visually impaired, because Australian law complies with the requirements of the treaty.

The amendments that the government is planning to introduce are not major substantive changes. They will update and streamline an existing, functioning system.

Australians can get access to only 193,000 of the 450,000 titles otherwise available from US online provider Bookshare This is easily solved by an efficient mechanism for checking if an accessible-format version of a title is commercially available in Australia. That is entirely achievable through sensible discussions. It does not require legislative change.

Australians with visual impairment are best served by multiple options for books and other material in accessible formats. It is important that there are incentives for commercial providers to develop accessible-format content, both to increase the range available to people with visual impairment, and to enable institutions to focus on accessible versions of content that is not otherwise available.

Draft legislation released in December would have opened up BookShare to Australians in one of the biggest ever shake-ups of Australian copyright law The draft legislation wouldn’t have made any difference to BookShare. And the amendments for people with disabilities are streamlining an existing, functioning system.
A disability organisation can’t convert a book into DAISY format if there is a commercial audio or large-print version available That isn’t true. The exception applies if a version in a format suitable to a person’s needs is not commercially available.
Our Copyright Act is painfully prescriptive, using rigid “blackletter law” rather than general principles such as the US “fair use” provisions The Australian Copyright Act, like the US Copyright Act, has both prescriptive and standards-based elements. Australian content creators are not against standards-based provisions. They are, however, worried about the potential for an exception like the US ‘fair use’ exception to erode fair payment.
A six-year-old girl might be entitled to save some music to a disk for homework, but it would be illegal for her parent to do it for her This is not true. Australia’s copyright legislation allows the parent to copy any music the parent owns (for example onto a USB) for use by the family, and allows the child or teacher to play the music in class.
Australia’s “blackletter law” requires organisations making accessible copies for the disabled to check for commercial alternatives before every single download of the copies they make This is not true. Organisations are only required to make a reasonable assessment that a suitable commercial version is not available.
Educational libraries are allowed to scan books for conversion into accessible formats only if they destroy the scans after each use This is not true. Educational libraries can retain ‘master copies’ for later re-use. They can also search for accessible-format versions held by other institutions using an online catalogue maintained by Copyright Agency.
Vision-impaired Australians can’t import legally-produced audio and braille books without the specific permission of the publishers Yes they can. Anyone can import any book for their own use. They don’t need permission under Australia’s copyright legislation.
Our current approach means we need to keep amending the Act every time there’s a new technological development or use that ought to be permitted Australia’s copyright system has been applied to many new situations and technologies without requiring amendment each time. For example, the scheme for the education sector has been successfully applied to new technologies such as electronic whiteboards, learning management systems and tablets.

And the US Copyright Act is currently the subject of comprehensive review, despite its ‘fair use’ exception.


29 August 2016

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