Monday 16 September 2013

Collective Copyright Trolling?

Just over a week ago Australia elected a new Federal Government, and many people are watching closely to see how copyright policy will change under the new regime. It's a particularly sensitive time as the Australian Law Reform Commission is in the final stages of an inquiry into the adequacy and appropriateness of current exceptions and statutory licences, with its report due by late November.

Given this context, it's highly interesting that the Copyright Agency Ltd has gone on the front foot with an aggressive marketing campaign. CAL is "the peak Australian body for licensing the rights to copy and communicate published material", and apparently it would like to drum up some new business in the form of more licences - and more prosecutions.

These ads were published about a week ago in the broadsheet press, encouraging employees to anonymously dob in their bosses for copyright infringements:

Using the slogan, "it's easy to infringe - easier to be licenced" CAL notes that "most" workplaces are infringing copyright. There's no doubt that that's true. There's probably millions of infringements every year by businesses and employees who would likely be outraged to discover their activity is infringing.  Australian copyright law relies on a system of narrow purpose-based exceptions, and many surprising situations fall outside them. For example, operating a search engine from Australia would almost certainly involve wholesale infringement.  Consumers can copy music from a CD to their tablets - but not from DVDs. Mashups and remixes aren't permitted unless they happen to also fall within one of the purpose-based exceptions, such as the one permitting fair dealing for parody or satire. Libraries can make copies of a published work for the purposes of replacing a work…but only after that work has been lost or stolen. Australians had no right to time-shift television until 2006, and even now it doesn't extend to current-generation timeshifting technologies (as I've written about here). And it's OK for teachers to write a poem on a blackboard, but writing the same poem on an interactive whiteboard will incur a fee. (More examples can be found on the Australian Digital Alliance's Copywrong website. Disclosure: I'm a member of the ADA's board.)

In light of CAL's strongly-worded position in favour of new licences over new exceptions, it will be interesting to see whether drawing attention to the ease with which copyright can be infringed under the existing law was really the best strategy.

By the way, before you decide to dob in your employer, bear in mind that there's a few catches. Monetary rewards will only be offered if your tip leads to a successful prosecution or a new licence - and their amount and payment are solely at CAL's discretion.


Anonymous said...

"For example, operating a search engine from Australia would almost certainly involve wholesale infringement"

Repeating Google's hollow claims is a misnomer. - they've been operating since 1995. 3 years before Google. To my knowledge, they've never faced a civil copyright case?

You'd have to think after 20 years, if it was an issue - these guys would have faced it by now.

john walker said...

Fair use would eliminate the need for compulsory licensing- i.e CAL would have to compete in a free market for right holders business, that is not a prospect that CAL looks forward to.

Another question is: is it at all appropriate for a statutory body like CAL to engage in partisan lobbying , especially during an election campaign, at all.

CAL also tried to drum up support via a weblog sort of thing , it did not work too well.