Canberra
16 February 2017
Reporter: Mark Dugdale

Rights holders reject Australian fair use


Rights holder groups in Australia have rejected claims that the country’s copyright laws are too broad and inflexible.

The groups, including the Australian Society of Authors and the Australian Recording Industry Association, blasted the Productivity Commission’s call for the introduction of a fair use exception and an expansion of safe harbour provisions in a joint statement issued on 16 February.

They were responding to the Productivity Commission’s December 2016 report on Australia’s intellectual property system, which was requested by the government in 2015.

The commission argued in particular for the introduction of “a system of user rights”, including an exception for fair use, would redress the imbalance of copyright, and help stop innovative firms, universities, schools and consumers bearing the cost.

“After 20 years of reviews that have considered this question, the evidence is in: Australia’s existing inflexible, purpose-based copyright exceptions are no longer fit for purpose,” the report argued.

“They are holding Australia back, not just in our universities and schools, but also in our digital industries. Innovative and useful technologies, and new ways of using content in socially beneficial ways, automatically infringe copyright in Australia unless their use falls within one of the existing narrow, purpose-based exceptions.”

In their joint statement, the rights holder groups said: “We support sensible reforms to the Copyright Act that benefit both Australian audiences and Australian creators.”

“However, the Productivity Commission’s recommendations, including the introduction of a US-style ‘fair use’ exception and expansion of the safe harbour provision to big tech companies will make it easier for these large organisations to use Australian content without fair payment and will mean less production of Australian stories.”

The government is expected to respond to the commission’s report soon. A group of 42 Indigenous artists have also rejected its findings, while tech companies such as Google and Facebook are among those backing it.

They were among more than 40 signatories to a letter sent to the government on 13 February that argued that a fair use exception would “future proof the Copyright Act by enabling an examination of new uses of copyright materials to be considered under the fair use provision instead of requiring incremental reforms to copyright laws”.

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