Australia: (Un)fair dealings from the Productivity Commission Report

Luke AlcottAustralia, News

(Originally posted on the Australian Society of Authors’ website: 29th April 2016)

There is nothing fair about the recommendations in the Productivity Commission’s draft report into Intellectual Property Arrangements, which was released today.

But a report accompanied by an infographic “COPY (NOT) RIGHT” was never going to be fair to Australia’s artists.

Under Australia’s current copyright law, it is perfectly legal for anyone to use copyright content for socially desirable purposes without having to get the permission of the content creator. These purposes are set out under a set of Copyright Act exceptions known as “fair dealing”.

The Productivity Commission, however, is proposing that we jettison these arrangements in favour of a US-style intellectual property system ironically called “fair use”. This legislation does not define what is “fair”. Rather, “fairness” is determined by courts on a case-by-case basis.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers audit into the introduction of “fair use” in Australia forecasts the resulting increase in litigation costs to producers and artists at $133m a year. To have to pay for costly litigation to protect their work from infringement is something that most artists cannot afford.

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) is the peak body representing 3000 Australian writers. Our members create the stories that define us as a nation.  They celebrate our humour, individuality and independence. They give voice to the issues that matter to our children and to us.

They do this because they care, but they also do this because it is their livelihood. They earn their income from the sale of their books and the paid use of their content through copying and repurposing. If an increased amount of that usage became permissible and free, as the Commission is recommending, the effects on the vibrant and successful Australian book ecosystem would be profound and deadly.

Canada went down this path by widening their “fair dealing” provisions to exempt educational use and the results have been devastating, with a loss of income to authors of more than $30 million and a dramatic reduction in the creation and publication of Canadian content.

It is critical that we reject “fair use” and support fair pay, so that our authors and illustrators can continue to write our stories and create our culture.