Parallel import gets scathing reviews

Plans by the Federal Government to remove restrictions on the parallel importation of software are under fire from industry and groups and channels concerned they will be lumbered with the cost of supporting product for parallel importers who will catch a free ride.

The government proposes to follow recommendations from the Intellectual Property and Competition Review to amend the Copyright Act enabling open-slather importation of copyright products after a 12-month transition period.

This brings the law relating to parallel importation of computer software, books and related publications, into line with music CDs, however, it will not extend the same provisions to films or movie DVDs.

According to Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, and Communications Minister, Richard Alston, "no compelling case has been demonstrated" to deregulate the film and DVD sector, an omission which has been branded as cynical by industry observers who say it is a case of film companies having a better lobby group.

The move has also been attacked by the Australian Visual Software Distributors Association (AVSDA), an umbrella lobbyist mostly composed of the local divisions of overseas major entertainment and multimedia software publishers.

"We are seriously concerned about the implications of this move," said Megan Simes, AVSDA chief executive. Simes believes the 1998 decision to remove copyright import restrictions on music CDs has not brought cheaper prices but resulted in greater piracy, a problem that is already of gigantuos proportions in the Australian software market.

Simes also predicts the industry policy of classifying software will fall apart, a suggestion that has been dismissed by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), who insists it will follow the existing requirement to have material classified prior to sale.

In the case of requests for classification from multiple importers Des Clark, OFLC director, said it is a case of "whoever gets in first will get the classification."

The lawyers are already examining the loopholes, one of which may see games with moving images classified as films thus falling outside any relaxation of software laws.

Labor has criticised the report, proposing an alternative whereby domestic copyright holders would have 30 days from an overseas launch to release product locally or lose import monopoly. If a product is unavailable for 90 days, the copyright holder would also lose its protection.