A new IP report says copyright holders have too much power

Games of Thrones. Source: HBO

The Productivity Commission believes that copyright law in Australia has gone too far, locking up content and ignoring the needs of users.

Action must be taken to rebalance Australia’s intellectual property (IP) arrangements, according to a draft report by the Productivity Commission.

Commissioner Karen Chester says copyright is important for rewarding creative endeavour.

“But in Australia, it is more a case of copy(not)right,” she says.

“Copyright is pervasive, affecting everyone from hip hop artists sampling music, school children watching a documentary in class, libraries and museums preserving Australia’s history, to innovative researchers accessing databases for data mining.”

However, she says copyright protection lasts too long. A book written today by an author who lives for another 50 years will be protected until 2136.

The Productivity Commission says this imposes costs on the community and access to works is restricted, particularly for works not commercially available but still subject to copyright protection.

“To correct these imbalances, Australia needs a new, principles-based, fair use exception, to protect user rights without undermining the incentive to create,” she says.


Australia currently operates under a fair dealing system, allowing parts of copyrighted material to be used for the purpose of review and criticism.

However, the Productivity Commission believes these exceptions are too narrow, do not reflect the way people actually consume and use content in the digital world and are insufficiently flexible to account for new legitimate uses of copyright material.

Copyright infringement is less defined under the fair use system operating in the US. Some argue that this better allows for the creation of new works pulling together parts from existing pieces.

Authors in Australia don’t like the idea of their work being available for others to make money while not being paid themselves. They argue that the current copyright laws give them control of the release of their work, allowing them create revenue.

Australia’s core copyright industries contribute $7.4 billion to Australia’s economy and employ more than 600,000 people, according to the collections body the Copyright Agency.

The agency, in a submission to the commission, said: “One of the consequences of ‘open-ended’ exceptions like the US ‘fair use’ exception is reduced certainty and predictability.”

In the US, the agency says, the filing of copyright court cases arguing whether someone is infringing copyright is vastly greater per capita than in Australia.

The commission is inviting submissions on the draft report by June 3 and will hold public hearings in June.

(Disclosure: Chris Pash is a member of the board of directors of the Australian Society of Authors)