Friday, April 29, 2016

PC calls for free trade books in copyright shake-up

The Productivity Commission has recommended the free import of books, the free use of copyrighted material under new so-called "fair use" rules, a leglislated guarantee that consumers have the right to defeat internet geoblockers and much tighter restrictions on the granting and use of patents, under reforms it says could save consumers up to $1 billion a year.

Consumers should also have a legislated right to defeat internet geoblocks set by such companies as Amazon, it says.

Subtitled Copy(not)right, the draft report of the commission's nine-month inquiry into intellectual property finds copyright terms are way in excess of what is needed, offering more than 100 years of protection for works that ought to be protected for 15 to 20 years.

It says the typical commercial life of a book, film or piece of music is less than five years, but that Australia's copyright rules often grant 120 years, which is the life of the author plus 70 years.

"To provide a concrete example, a new work produced in 2016 by a 35-year-old author who lives until 85 years will be subject to protection until 2136," it says.

"The evidence (and indeed logic) suggests that the duration of copyright protection is far more than is needed. Few, if any, creators are motivated by the promise of financial returns long after death."

The report says the Howard government's decision to extend Australia's copyright term by 20 years to life plus 70 years as part of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement probably added an extra $88 million to the annual sum sent offshore to foreign rights holders.

The decision to allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to extend the term of their 20-year patents by an extra five years probably costs Australian governments and consumers $250 million >a year.

Australia imports six times as much patented and copyrighted material as it exports, making it a net consumer rather than a producer whose interests ought to be aligned with those of consumers. The report says the gap is widening.

It backs proposals to introduce an open-ended and non-prescriptive right of "fair use" of copyrighted material that would allow many uses presently illegal in Australia, including the use of thumbnail images by search engines, the "quotation" of lyrics or song fragments in songs, the use of politicians' jingles by their opponents in election advertisements, and the use of extracts from films in documentaries.

It goes further than recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission in recommending fair use allow the publishing and digitisation of so-called "orphan works", where no rights holder can be found, and copyright-protected works that the owner chooses not to make commercially available. The change would deny authors the right to prevent the publication or performance of their works.

The report says Australia's patent rules are too lax, requiring claimed inventors to provide evidence of a "mere scintilla of invention" in order to lock up the use of their ideas. Patent fees should be higher and applicants should be required to explain why their ideas are not obvious, it says.

Consumers should have a legislated right to defeat geoblocks imposed by companies such as Netflix and Amazon in order to prevent Australians buying products sold overseas. The law that at present prevents Australian retailers importing books without the permission of local publishers should be repealed in the same way as the laws preventing the import of music without local publishers were repealed.

The commission has called for comments on its draft report by June 3. It will deliver its final report to the government in August.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald