Australian copyright laws out of touch

Australian copyright laws out of touch

Australia has fallen behind its peers in the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights and is trailing developing countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, according to the Business Software Association's enforcement guru, Bob Kruger.

On a whirlwind trip to Australia this month to meet with the Federal Police, the Attorney General's office and Australian legislative staff, Kruger admitted he was surprised by the absence of systems by which copyright owners could take action against those who steal their IP.

Australia lacks all three of the core weapons to combat copyright: criminalising end-user piracy, establishing statutory damages, and making it easier for copyright owners to prove their case.

"In other countries [copyright] is subject to criminal prosecution, in Australia it is a civil offence and almost hardly worth the cost of bringing the case," said Kruger. "It is much more difficult for rights owners to prove their case in court and there are no remedies in place even if they are successful."

By comparison, the US fines $US150,000 for each work infringed, without the copyright owner having to show any loss on their own part, or profits by the infringing party.

"The purpose of statutory damages is to make it more expensive to infringe [the copyright] than it is to comply," said Kruger. "That's the key -- relative risk versus cost."

During his stay in Australia, Kruger did not encounter one argument against criminalising piracy and establishing statutory damages, even though he said Australia isn't displaying the urgency to act that is present amongst its geographical peers.

"I think it's bizarre that I'm preparing Australia [for these issues] when I'd have thought it on par with the rest of the technologically aware countries. Australia is looked at to play a leadership role within the Asia-Pacific region."

In reality, however, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand all have legislative structures regarding copyright in place and Singapore and Indonesia are both in the process of installing them. This will leave Australia as the only country in the region without a protective framework for IP.

"What I've heard over and over is that this change is going to take time," said Kruger. "[The BSA's] response is that the one thing we don't have is time." Once this issue migrates to the Internet it will multiply beyond control, he said. "When broadband arrives it will be a lot harder to put the horse back in the barn."

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