yARN: Time to have your say ...

... on copyright and the digital economy

The Australian Law Reform Commission enquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy has the potential to affect the lives of practically all Australians, so you owe it to yourself to put forward your views on the matter.

As someone who makes a living from stringing words together, I’m the last person to argue that copyright should be abolished. But I do believe our copyright laws need to be much more consistent. For example, where is the inherent difference between reading this article on the screen of a computer or making a paper copy to read on the train? Depending where you live and when you travel, flashing a tablet during the commute might not be wise.

Why should there be a distinction between recording a free-to-air TV program on a PVR that you own, one that you rent, or one that exists in a data centre? I’m a firm believer in technological neutrality as far as legislation is concerned.

If time-shifting of non-subscription content is acceptable - and I can’t see any government going back on that principle - why should it matter how the recording is made, or who is deemed to have actually made it?

And any suggestion that Internet caching should be a breach of copyright is bizarre, except to the extent that it denies revenue to rightsholders where they are remunerated on some kind of ‘pay per view’ basis, presumably linked to advertising. Even then, surely all that’s necessary is for ‘publishers’ to mark as uncacheable the elements used to count views, and to mandate the honouring of no-cache labels.

Otherwise, the copyright regime would appear to be working against cache operators (largely ISPs, but also larger organisations) that are trying to improve the user experience and reduce their - and in consequence the content providers’ - costs.

There again, if you’ve bought and paid for a movie on DVD or Blu-ray, why shouldn’t you have the right to transcode and copy it for use on a device without the corresponding optical drive, such as a smartphone or tablet?

And if you want to store that copy on a Cloud server, why shouldn’t that be permitted? Remember, you’ve already paid for the content. Several years ago the content industries were telling us that we were paying for the right to listen/watch/etc, so why do they want us to pay again each time a new kind of player emerges?

For example, if you’ve purchased a large music library on CD, why should you be expected to subscribe to a music service to listen to those tracks while you’re on the move?

You might also be concerned about your right - or lack thereof - to make backup copies of content you’ve purchased, especially those stored off site. That’s another of the 55 questions posed by the ALRC’s issues paper http://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/copyright-ip42 on which individuals and organisations are invited to comment.

The final two questions concern ‘contracting out’ - that is, contract terms that are intended to exclude or limit copyright exemptions.

I believe a fair copyright regime must prevent such contracting out. The problem is that rightsholders are inherently monopolists. There may be several SF shows airing at any given time, but there’s only one Fringe. Erotic novels abound, but there’s only on 50 Shades of Grey (sequels notwithstanding). Copyright materials are practically always offered to the public on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis with no room for negotiation, so exemptions must trump licence ‘agreements’.

So please, download and read the paper, and submit your views to the enquiry on whichever aspects you consider most important. If you don’t speak up by November 16, it may be a while before you get another opportunity to influence lawmakers on this matter.

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