news Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam has introduced a wide-ranging amendment bill to Australia’s copyright legislation which would see a range of “fair use” and “fair go” stipulations introduced, with the intention of delivering Australian consumers a fairer copyright situation than they currently enjoy.
In a media release issued yesterday, Ludlam said the Copyright Legislation Amendment (Fair Go for Fair Use) Bill 2013 would introduce four key reforms: Removing discrimination for the visually impaired, protecting Australia’s libraries, “digital innovators” and educational institutions, preventing Australians from paying higher prices for software, games and music, and adopting a US-style “fair use” model which would allow the law to respond to new technology not yet introduced.
“Australian copyright law is out of date, inflexible, unnecessarily complex, imbalanced and virtually blind to digital communication technology such as smartphones used by three out of four Australian adults,” Ludlam said.
“Until our copyright laws were last updated in 2006, it was illegal for Australians to use a videocassette recorder (VCR). The absurdity of this was obvious given the widespread use of this technology in education and entertainment. While the law caught up with the video age eventually, advances in technology have served to make our laws nonsensical once again.”
The Greens Senator said there were a number of anomalies currently present in Australian copyright law, including the fact that operating a search engine in Australia could risk infringing copyright, that libraries could make copies of a copyrighted work to replace it — but only after the work was already stolen or lost — and that it was illegal to remove digital rights management from a legally purchased eBook in order to read it on a different device or to back it up.
In addition, Ludlam said, many Australians currently bought music CDs not knowing that it was illegal to listen to them on their smartphone or tablet; music could be copied from a CD to a tablet, but a purchased DVD could not go through the same process; playing an online video in a presentation to a group is illegal, and comedians could safely use copyrighted material in parody or satire, but artists couldn’t use the same material in their art.
“When Gutenberg invented the printing press, it was banned for periods of time in some parts of Germany,” said Ludlam. “When libraries were created, the publishing industry feared authors would starve and the book business would die if people could read for free. What soon became apparent is that libraries sharing culture created incentives for further learning, writing and the creation of more culture. Similar types of fears and predictions were aroused by the invention of the photocopier and video cassette recorder.”
“The internet is all of these things – the greatest library in human history, proliferating and recording information, sharing culture and innovation while providing opportunities to collaborate and communicate despite location. Shutting down the printing presses didn’t stop the desire to read and learn. Locking up content that can be shared online and shutting down technology isn’t going to either.”
“The Greens believe that the potentials, benefits and gifts of the online library can be available safely with privacy and human rights and civil liberties intact, as well as copyright preserved for commercial copying, but only if we pay very careful attention to the balance that is being struck between these freedoms and our obligations as citizens. We are currently not getting the balance right.”
Among the specific measures introduced by the bill are new rules that would provide an exception to so-called Technical Protection Measures locking up content to allow those Australians with visual impairments to be able to convert books into audio formats, for example; the introduction of a formal Safe Harbour stipulation to allow service providers protection from copyright infringing activities on their networks; tackles so-called ‘Geocode’ mechanisms which allow content owners to differentiate between goods bought in Australia and outside Australia, and would introduce a Fair Use doctrine which would allow new technologies to be introduced which modify content.
At present every new framework of copyrighted material, including through new technology, currently needs to be approved by Parliament; Ludlam’s bill would allow more freedom in terms of new technologies being introduced into the market.
“Copyright reform is needed to remove discriminatory barriers that impact the visually impaired or force Australians to pay more for no good reason, to protect our learning and cultural institutions and provide fair rules, fair process and fair opportunities to defend use of copyrighted material,” said Ludlam. “Australian laws cannot continue to migrate assumptions about copyright from the printed or analogue age which is rapidly passing as we enter the digital age.”
The Pirate Party Australia has indicated it supports Ludlam’s bill.
“The Pirate Party has always been an ardent supporter of fair use, and this Bill is a great start to true copyright reform in Australia. We thank Senator Ludlam for tabling such an important Bill,” said Brendan Molloy, lead Senate candidate in NSW for the Pirate Party. “If we want copyright law to be respected, we need respectable copyright law, and this Bill is absolutely a step in the right direction. We look forward to further reform in this area upon the conclusion of the ALRC Copyright and the Digital Economy inquiry.”
I wrote the following about another Ludlam bill last week — the ‘Get a warrant’ bill which would block Australian law enforcement agencies from obtaining access to telecommunications records without a warrant, and it applies here as well:
“Look, I’ll say this right up-front. This bill is never going to be supported by either the Coalition or Labor, and even the independents might have problems with it. As with a lot of the legislative work that the Greens do, it’s a vanity piece — a bill which doesn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting up, but which represents the ideals of the Greens; the kind of legislation which Greens voters want their elected representatives to put up.
However, I don’t think this is a bad thing. By developing this kind of legislation and taking the time to put it forward, as well as taking the parliamentary process as seriously as it (usually) does in the face of the rampant absurdity delivered by the other parties, the Greens are demonstrating what could be possible if our political parties were less, well, political, and more passionate about actual positive outcomes for Australians. More idealistic.”
Do I think most Australians would support Ludlam’s ‘Fair Go for Fair Use’ legislation, if given the option? Yes, frankly, I do. Most of it makes complete sense, although I am sure there are elements of industry that would object to specific clauses. However, as I mentioned, there is really zero chance of this legislation getting through Australia’s Federal Parliament. And perhaps that says something very disturbing about the hard limits of our democracy, and how much it is controlled by special interest groups.