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?


Comments

    Edit: removed the post because it was impolite

    Last edited 13/08/13 11:03 am

    we pay twice as much for our media & half the legal options for how we can use them.

      Yep. In any other industry, service and conditions like that and we would move on to another product. Many people do in form of piracy or services to defeat geo-blocking but unfortunately the vast majority don't know any better.

        yes, geoblocking.. it feels strange watching US ads while streaming.. I don't mind watching the Ads, it's just a shame that Au Media companies are unwilling to provide the same quality streaming services for the same price (is this because of Murdoch?).

          Funnily enough I've been seeing ads for an Australian wine on Hulu lately, yellow tail I think, and at least their car ads haven't been diluted by the fun police into the rubbish we have here.

          I often wonder why this hasn't reached our shores yet. It seems to be much more logical to let people watch what they want when they want. For premieres you could allow people to stream at a certain time and then watch on demand after that.

          Think of it... tailored ads (=more revenue), guarantees of how many people see those ads, super-accurate ratings, access to all areas without transmission infrastructure... maybe this will be more likely to happen after the NBN?

          If I had to make one prediction about future tech it would be that net TV will replace terrestrial transmissions - despite the fact that this hasn't been borne out by previous advances in technology (eg TV was supposed to replace radio)

    So does that mean that you are breaking the law copying a CD to your computer and then copying that music to your iPod?

      No. The exceptions allow you to shape shift a music CD into your computer, and from your computer into your iPod. However these are all legitimate provided you actually own the CD: s.109A

    Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

    on the other hand these changes might make things harder for content creators:

    "Like the checklist of fairness factors, these purposes are open-ended and flexible. Therefore, someone’s unauthorised use of creative material beyond what is listed above might also be regarded as fair (and thus beyond a creator’s or content owner’s control). Ultimately, the only way that permissible uses and circumstances could be determined with certainty would be through litigation and court decisions."
    http://www.copyright.org.au/admin/cms-acc1/_images/174936612751b8fa8c14ebe.pdf

      Hold on a sec, lets not get creators confused with publishers ha ha

    "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."

    Correction: isn't even aware that they're doing anything ILLEGAL. The laws are definitely broken. Why we aren't in a position where we purchase a license to use intellectual property instead of a given form of that property is beyond me. I found a website the other day where you could buy a vinyl, or a vinyl + mp3 combo for extra. Laughable, but predictable in the current environment.

    So bringing back DVDs from overseas (you know, the ones with sub-titles in a different language, or the shadow of a person's head intermittently moving across the screen) are still a no no?

    For the record, everything in my house has been bought and paid for.

    The Christian artist Colin Buchanan has a reference to Leviticus 19:11 on his CDs (You shall not steal). I concur.

    But really, not being able to use something I have paid for in the manner of my choosing? That's why there is Handbrake!

    Good thing I've purchased 6 copies of every CD and DVD I wanted. Now I don't have to risk getting caught for copyright! Although, it's hard keeping track of which copy I've got on each device...

    "Fair Use will allow consumers greater use of content they legally own"

    Therein lies the crux of the problem - the majority of media we spend our hard-earned on is merely 'licensed' to us, we don't own it.

    But of course we should be allowed to consume media we have 'purchased' on any device we own. So long as we are not copying to devices we don't own, then there should be no issue. Not that big media cares about 'fair use' anyway.

    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.

    The "broken" aspect of that is how the hell do you enforce it? Short of inspecting individual devices, how do you know someone has a copy of a song on their computer, tablet and phone? Under the current laws, a TV broadcast you've recorded can only be watched once, by the person who pressed the record button (and members of the household, and then must be deleted at some point:

    ...the exception does not permit a person to record a broadcast and keep it indefinitely in a collection of films or sound recordings for repeated use.

    That's pretty much unenforceable, and so detached from reality, it's a little bit insane.

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