news Advocacy group Digital Rights Watch has called for the introduction of fair use legislation and the cessation of Internet censorship as the Productivity Commission prepares to undertake a 12-month public inquiry into Australia’s intellectual property system.
Calling for the development of “evidence-based intellectual property law”, Digital Rights Watch warned that intellectual property rules worldwide have been increasingly strengthened in recent years through “international policy laundering and a complex web of interlocking trade agreements”.
“The result is that Australia is now locked into a set of international standards for intellectual property protection that are not in our national interest, and which have not been optimally implemented,” the group said in a statement.
The “lack of flexibility” in Australia’s intellectual protection regime brings a number of consequences, it said, including that consumers face higher prices and less choice as competition in the market is decreased.
Further, access to and creative reuse of content is “impeded by far-reaching protection and inadequate exceptions, even for materials where no substantial market exists”.
All this means that Australia is lagging behind other countries that provide “a better base for innovation”, with consumers finding copyright lacking relevance and intellectual property law not garnering previous levels of respect, the group said.
“We support the Productivity Commission’s draft recommendations to do what is possible, within the context of Australia’s international obligations, to make our intellectual property laws fit for purpose in the digital age,” Digital Rights Watch said.
It further said it “strongly supports” the Commission’s focus on user rights, adding that the full range of consumers’ interests are often “not well represented” in intellectual property negotiations and policy development.
The group also welcomed the Commission’s exploration of how the current intellectual property settings impact differently upon different types of rights holders, and its acknowledgment that the needs of small, independent creators are different to those of large corporations.
“A focus on user rights and broader economic benefits will go some way to improving the balance that is needed to create an effective and efficient intellectual property system” said Digital Rights Watch.
In the long term, the group suggested that Australia “must do more” to ensure the sovereignty to determine the boundaries of intellectual property protection as is appropriate to the national context and to further the national interest.
This will require a “fundamental rethinking” of the way Australia approaches international negotiations, it said, and “the beginnings of a long road to disentangle intellectual property obligations from trade agreements”.
The group also said that a “more democratic and transparent approach to these negotiations is critical, given the significant effects of the outcomes on so many Australians”.
Digital Rights Watch offered a number of recommendations that it suggested could help improve the current situation.
These include the immediate introduction of fair use rules, a block on the introduction of new copyright enforcement mechanisms “unless and until the market is being effectively served”, and the extension of safe harbours.
It further suggested that website blocking laws should be “scrapped” and that
it should be legal to circumvent geoblocks to help improve competition and consumer outcomes.