Are Australia’s Copyright Laws Broken?

A new national survey by CHOICE has discovered that around 15 percent of Australians make copies of music and DVDs for use on personal devices like tablets and laptops. However, this is not currently permitted under Australia’s copyright laws. According to CHOICE, we’re still living in the VHS era and the rules need to be changed. So what can you actually get away with today?

TV Movie picture from Shutterstock

In Australia, it is legal to format shift your content, but only under specific circumstances. You’re allowed to transfer audio recordings you own to one other device, record TV for viewing at a later date, digitise analogue video and make a backup copy of a computer program if the licence permits it.

However, there are still plenty of common backup practices that are firmly against the law — more often than not, the “offender” isn’t even aware that they’re doing anything wrong.

“Our current law says it’s OK to copy a song onto one device, like your iPod, but illegal to copy it onto two, like your iPod and iPad,” explained Matt Levey, CHOICE director of campaigns and communications.

“It’s also illegal to copy a video file, say from a DVD, onto another device like a tablet, but that has not stopped 9 per cent of Australians who say they have done it. Hardly surprising, given that 57 per cent of Australians told us they believe this action is legal.”

Australia has a long history of dragging its feet when it comes to copyright law and how it relates to new technologies. As Levey notes, it was technically illegal to record TV shows at home prior to 2006, despite VCRs being a regular household fixture in Australia since the mid-1980s.

“Now, consumers are increasingly streaming, storing and backing up data in the cloud, but Australians risk being denied new services because our laws are stuck in the VHS age.”

CHOICE, alongside the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), is clamoring for Australia’s copyright system to be upgraded with a ‘fair use’ approach that would ease restrictions on format shifting for consumers.

“Fair Use will allow consumers greater use of content they legally own, while at the same time protecting content producers and artists. America has a Fair Use system, and is one of the largest producers of copyrighted content in the world,” Levey said.

“Allegations that Fair Use will encourage piracy are ludicrous, and exhibit a fundamental misunderstanding of how a Fair Use system will work.”

In short, Fair Use provides a basic set of principles that determine what is and is not illegal with regard to how people use copyrighted material with rules based on ‘fairness factors’ — what is being used and how, and the impact the use has on the market for the material. This is different to current copyright laws which only allow for specific exceptions.

CHOICE is calling on the public to pledge its support for Fair Use via the Make It Fair campaign which covers all downloadable entertainment including books, music and movies.

See also: Format Shifting 101: What Are Your Legal Rights In Australia?

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


16 responses to “Are Australia’s Copyright Laws Broken?”