Wikipedia says Australians ‘break the law everyday’ on copyright and has launched a reform campaign

Business Cat meme. (Source:

Wikipedia is taking on the Australian government in a campaign calling for copyright law reform.

The online encyclopaedia has started displaying top-of-page banners for Australian users urging the country to enact “fair use” provisions, which has been recommended in six reports since 1998, but never adopted.

Fair use allows copyrighted material to be used freely in “fair” circumstances that don’t affect the earning power of the author. Wikipedia, based in the USA where such protections originated, would be illegal if it was hosted in Australia.

“Wikipedia uses fair use to share knowledge across the world. Soon Australia could too, with your help,” reads one of the banners.

The site argues that, under current laws, most Australians “break the law every day”.

Jon Lawrence, executive officer at Electronic Frontiers Australia, which is partnering Wikipedia in the campaign, agreed and called current copyright laws in Australia “absurdly outdated”.

“Forwarding an email. Reposting a meme you found online. Uploading a picture of your toddler mangling the words of a song to Facebook. Our law hasn’t caught up with any of these common usages, and as a result Australians inadvertently infringe copyright dozens of times a day.”

The latest recommendation to adopt fair use was made by the Productivity Commission and the federal cabinet is currently considering the proposal.

The Australian organisation that collects royalties on behalf of copyright owners, the Copyright Agency, is lobbying against reform. It has even amassed a $15.5 million pot using payments from schools and universities to fund its campaign against fair use.

Jessica Coates, executive officer at Wikipedia’s campaign partner Australian Digital Alliance, said that any fair use reform must be future-proof.

“It took until 2006 to legalise taping a TV show on your VCR, by which time most VCRs were already mothballed in the closet. We need copyright law that focuses not on specific technologies but on what is fair,” she said.

“Schools, universities, libraries, museums, startups are all hamstrung by current copyright settings. If we want world class education and culture we need our copyright law to enter the 21st century.”

Wikipedia’s banner campaign will run for three weeks.