Free is not fair – Australian authors fear “fair use” educational exceptions

Luke AlcottAustralia, Copyright law, News

The secondary incomes of Australian authors are under threat after the Productivity Commission made recommendations which could enable the mass copying and re-use of educational material for free. Similar changes to Canadian copyright law in 2012 have severely impacted the incomes of educational authors and rendered licensing schemes inoperable.

Licensing has long been viewed as a fair way of to compensate writers for the use of their works, and a cost-effective way for schools to share high quality educational materials. However in countries such as Canada, where writers are no longer being compensated for the copying of their works in schools and other institutions, many writers have found themselves financially unable to continue working in the educational sector.

A similar change to ‘fair use’ in Australia could lead to a decline in writers and publishers creating and commissioning original educational content, which would result in a decline in the country’s professional creative and cultural output.

Figures in a report by PwC submitted prior to the recommendations suggested that such a move could hit the country’s GDP by A$1.3 billion. This is a ‘conservative’ figure and therefore may only give a partial picture of the potential financial damage to the Australian economy.

‘Fair use’ educational exceptions also create other problems: the current Australian system which operates in a similar way to the UK, leads to far less litigation than in countries like the US where almost five times as much copyright litigation occurs and where ‘fair use’ has been in full effect for decades.

Following the impact on the incomes of Canadian writers, the implications for Australian creators cannot be overlooked. We support the Australian Copyright Agency’s statement on the issue that “free is not fair”.   A reasonable restructure of the system needs to be formulated to protect authors’ rights whilst at the same time allowing consumers access to a wide range of material for both educational and recreational purposes. The draft bill that the Australian government is about to introduce will implement consensus proposals for the education sector, libraries and people with disabilities which illustrates a positive example of the way forward.

See more about the impact of copyright modernisation in Canada.