by Don Groves
The Australian government has rejected a proposal by the Productivity Commission to reduce the life of copyright to 15 to 25 years after creation in place of the current term of 70 years after the death of the author.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said, “This is not something the government has considered, proposed or intends to do.”
The Productivity Commission made the recommendation in its draft report into intellectual property arrangements released in April. Its final report is due in August.
The report estimates the average commercial life is 3.3- 6 years for films, 2-5 years for music, 1.4-5 years for literary works and two years for most original visual artistic works. It concludes, “A commercial life of a couple of years suggests most works are granted protection for decades longer than necessary.”
However Fifield said, “The Productivity Commission notes in its draft report that Australia is a party to a range of free trade agreements and has no unilateral capacity to alter copyright terms and that to even attempt to do so would require international negotiations and the reversal of international standards.
“The Turnbull government is committed to ensuring that the intellectual property system provides appropriate incentives for innovation and the production of creative works. We also need a system that does not unreasonably impede further innovation, competition, investment and access to goods and services.
“Australian literature is vital to our cultural and intellectual life and the Coalition values the unique role that literature and books play in communicating Australian stories.”
Fifield’s assurances followed widespread criticism of the PC’s recommendations. The Australian Writers Guild warned that reducing the copyright term to 15 years and the introduction of US-style ‘fair use’ for copyright works would have a devastating impact on the nation’s screenwriters and other authors.
AWG executive director Jacqueline Elaine said those proposals showed the Productivity Commission’s profound lack of understanding of the writing process. “The Productivity Commission seems to be recommending that broadcasters and distributors continue to make money by exploiting the intellectual property in film and TV shows while the creators of these works should be stripped of their rights to be paid,” she said.
At the annual Australian book industry awards1 Magda Szubanski, winner of best biography and book of the year for Reckoning: A Memoir, said she would not write another book and would consider leaving the country. Tim Winton said the Turnbull government was flirting with a “massive own goal,” adding, “I can’t quite believe that we’ll put the fate of our culture into the hands of a few wonks and technocrats who won’t be here in 10 or 20 year to pick up the pieces.”
Thomas Keneally said, “The federal government proposes to do something neither the Brits nor Americans propose to do their writers: to slice Australian authors’ copyright to 15-25 years after publication. These are just some of the books of mine published more than 15 years after their first appearance (pointing to a pile of his bestselling books). Under the new proposal, these would no longer belong to me.”
Fifield stressed the government’s commitment to protect the legitimate interests of rights holders’ intellectual property and their ability to earn a return on their creative endeavours.
Fifield pointed out that the legislation which came into effect last year which enables content owners to ask courts to order ISPs to take down piracy websites. He said the government has consulted on further improvements to the Copyright Act to update and simplify the protections for copyright owners. These measures will be introduced at the start of the next term of parliament, he said.
The media release by Communications Minster Mitch Fifield can be found here.
Don Groves reports on the Australian and APAC screen industries for Forbes.com and C21 Media after working for Variety for 24 years.