by Paul Muller
Illustration: Greg Holfeld
We commend Communications Minister Mitch Fifield for removing the contentious safe harbour provisions from the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access & Other Measures) Bill which was introduced into Parliament on March 22.
We urge the Minister to send it back to the Department for a proper review and consultation with stakeholders.
As originally drafted, Schedule 2 would have provided a legal shelter for big tech companies like Google and Facebook to profit from infringing behaviour by users on their platforms at the expense of the nearly one million Australians - writers, musicians, filmmakers and many others - who rely on copyright for their livelihoods.
Dr. George Barker illustrates in his recently released paper 'Diminished Creative Industry Growth in Australia in the Digital Age' that these creators have been swept up in a deadly storm due to massive online infringement occurring on, or facilitated by, some of the major digital platforms, and they wield very little negotiating power with these major players.
Using the Government's own Australian Bureau of Statistics National Accounts data, Barker shows that core copyright industries' (CCI) value-add growth in Australia failed to keep up with economy-wide growth - a shortfall of $332 billion when compared to the pre-2000 growth rate.
Copyright industries' employment growth in Australia also failed to maintain pre-2000 levels - a shortfall of around 260,000 industry jobs by 2011. His report also highlights gross fixed capital formation in artistic originals as a percentage of GDP would have been 36% higher had it maintained its 1992-2001 growth rate, meaning there are fewer Australian stories to enjoy now than there would have been.
We don't necessarily object to extending safe harbour provisions to some online intermediaries, but the quid pro quo should be that those intermediaries take an active role in ensuring that piracy can't flourish on or through their platforms.
That can't be achieved by simply copying part of a nearly 20-year-old law from the US. That legislation was conceived at a time where the internet was just starting to develop. The term Web 2.0 would not be known until many years later.
In 1998, it's unlikely that any policy maker would have even heard about Google. The company had only just received its first outside investment of US$100k. In March 2017 Alphabet (Google's parent company) had a market capitalisation of US$580bn.
Similarly, in 1998 Mark Zuckerberg had yet to be admitted to Harvard. He founded Facebook in 2004 and listed the company in 2012. Facebook now has a US$400bn market capitalisation.
What made sense in 1998 no longer makes sense in 2017. Technology has evolved. Economies have evolved. Copying parts of US legislation from 1998 is not good policy for Australia today.
We believe that the Government should do more to combat online infringement and the market distortions it has caused. This is killing Australian stories, it's killing Australian jobs and it's robbing Australians of tax income. There is no case for giving immunity to big overseas tech firms who employ few Australians and pay little tax here.
Paul Muller is CEO of the Australian Screen Association.