news Consumer advocacy group Choice has backed recommendations by the Productivity Commission to make copyright more consumer friendly and called for an end to geoblocking of Internet content.
If implemented, the Productivity Commission’s recommendations would see an end to companies blocking consumers based on location, and would allow shopping on international websites for products and services such as music, movies and clothing.
“The Productivity Commission has called out the fact that copyright in Australia overly favours owners and forgets about the rights and needs of consumers,” said Alan Kirkland, CEO of Choice. ”We’d like to see the Federal Government embrace the key recommendations of this report and end geoblocking by making it clear to consumers that they have a right to access international markets and services.”
“It’s time the era of geoblocking and digital discrimination ended. Consumers should no longer be restrained from accessing competition in international markets – and more accessible content benefits creators as well, being the best way to reduce piracy,” Kirkland added.
The Productivity Commission report calls for an overhaul of the existing user rights system, including the introduction of a broad, principles-based ‘fair use’ exception.
‘Fair use’ is a defence to copyright infringement found in some jurisdictions that allows use of all or part of copyrighted works under certain conditions. In Australia, the legislation is widely considered to be not broad enough, outdated at a time of rapid technological change and creating uncertainty for both copyright holders and consumers.
“The fact is our copyright system is broken and imbalanced. It was designed for an age before Google, Netflix and countless other digital businesses that Australians have embraced,” said Kirkland.
“Right now, all sorts of everyday, ordinary behaviour is not allowed under Australian law. It can be an infringement of copyright for a teacher to do something as harmless as record a documentary to show their class,” he said. “If we adopted a fair use defence, though, this sort of ordinary behaviour would be covered.”
Kirkland suggested it is time to “rebalance” Australia’s copyright system to make it “fair and flexible” and supportive of creators and consumers.
“The Productivity Commission makes it clear in its report that the copyright system is out of kilter, favouring big copyright owners over consumers. It’s time to fix this problem, by adopting the reforms and making the system work for everyone,” he said.
The Productivity Commission report also covered the potential risks associated with international trade agreements, and suggested that they could constrain Australia’s flexibility over its intellectual property policy.
The Commission recommended that Australia should not enter into any agreements that would restrict Australian consumers’ rights to circumvent geoblocks, or that would extend the copyright protection period for pharmaceutical products.
“The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will impact on our intellectual property framework, further locking in lengthy protection periods and providing a boost for medical patent holders at the expense of Australian consumers and patients,” said Kirkland.
“This is exactly the sort of trade agreement that the Productivity Commission warns against, and the Federal Government has yet to release any independent cost-benefit analysis that would justify entering into the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he concluded.
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