Denham Sadler
May 22, 2017

Wikipedia in new copyright fight

Policy

Wikipedia in new copyright fight

Nicole Buskiweicz: Australian innovation would be the winners in fair use laws for copyright

US tech giant Wikipedia has launched a large political campaign calling for copyright reform in Australia, reigniting the fiery war between copyright holders and the tech community.

Wikipedia’s campaign, which launched on Monday morning, calls for the introduction of fair use in Australia, which would allows for the use of copyrighted material without permission as long it didn’t harm the market for the original material.

Australia’s current fair dealing copyright scheme only applies to the use of copyrighted material without permission for the purpose of research, study, parody or reporting the news.

Wikipedia’s campaign features large banner ads on the site claiming that the platform would be illegal if it were based in Australia due to its use of logos and album covers for example, and calls on users to write to Australian politicians and contribute money.

“Wikipedia relies on fair use to bring you content in articles like the one you were reading. Copyright that makes sense. That’s fair. If Wikipedia were hosted in Australia, none of this fair use material could be shown,” the Wikipedia campaign said.

“We believe that using these copyrighted material on Wikipedia is beneficial, educational, transformative and, importantly, not harmful to the copyright owner’s commercial rights

The debate about fair use rules in Australia has been raging since the Productivity Commission delivered its report on copyright reform in December last year.

The Commission recommended the introduction of fair use in Australia, saying this would help to return fairness to “innovative firms, universities and schools” that are bearing the cost of the current arrangement.

“Fair use would allow Australia’s copyright arrangements to adapt to new circumstances, technologies and uses over time. The opportunities Australian businesses and consumers forgo because of the current inflexible exceptions are much more extensive,” the Productivity Commission said.

Similar to the ongoing debate over a safe harbour regime, the arguments for fair use pit copyright holders against big tech companies and startup representatives.

DIGI is a group comprising representatives from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo. Its managing director Nicole Buskiweicz said fair use would help to foster local innovation.

“In today’s rapidly evolving digital environment, a fair use exception is the best tool to help Australia’s copyright laws protect existing copyright while still allowing innovative use and reuse that can improve our society and economy,” Ms Buskiweicz told InnovationAus.com.

“The introduction of a fair use exception will help future-proof Australia’s copyright laws and ensure that they support and enable local innovation and economy growth. Fair use will make Australia a more inviting environment for starting or running a technology company.”

StartupAUS CEO Alex McCauley said his organisation strongly supports fair use in Australia and the biggest benefactors would be local startups.

“I’m struck by how powerful this could be for Australian innovators. It allows more startups to develop here on the basis that innovators have less restrictions on what they can do,” Mr McCauley told InnovationAus.com.

“It’s hard to quantify how much the difference might be because you’re measuring something that doesn’t exist yet.”

“It’s the loss of prospective big companies like Google being developed in Australia that is really the catalyst for driving this conversation.”

The current copyright regime has left Australia lagging behind the rest of the world in the tech race, Mr McCauley said.

“Some of the historical examples of technologies that have come late to Australia as a result of the fact we don’t have a fair use doctrine are pretty powerful in terms of giving indication of how much not having fair use can slow things down,” he said.

“I think there’s a tangible benefit for Australian startups and tech firms, and to Australian consumers. We are behind the rest of the world in lots of new technologies because of the restrictions that not having fair use doctrine imposes.”

On the other side, copyright holders argue that the fair dealing system is working well, and the introduction of fair use would negatively impact Australian artists and content-makers.

“Australian artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers have a right to receive fair payments for their work. These sweeping changes to Australian copyright laws being pushed by the Productivity Commission as well as American big tech companies will see these protections taken away,” Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling said following the commission’s report.

“This is not just unfair, it is a threat to jobs of young Australians. This extreme approach outlined by the Commission will make it much harder to nurture the next generation of stars and Aussie icons.”

Copyright holders argue that the changes are being pushed for the benefit of large tech firms rather than local Australian companies. Google is a major financial sponsor of StartupAUS.

“The Productivity Commission’s recommendations seem to be straight out of the US Big Tech playbook, ignoring the views of the vast majority of submissions which oppose these far-reaching recommendations that will wreak havoc on Australia’s creative community,” Mr Suckling said.

Wikipedia addressed this concern in its new campaign.

“Schools, universities, TAFEs, libraries, archives, museums, galleries, consumers, technology companies and Australian startups are all asking for fair use,” the campaign said.

There have been eight inquiries into fair use in the last 20 years, with nearly all of these recommending that the scheme be introduced to replace the current fair dealing system.

The government is set to reveal its response to the Productivity Commission’s report in the coming months, with more pressure likely to be placed on it following Wikipedia’s latest push.

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