by Kim Williams
The extraordinary Steve Jobs once said, “From the earliest days at Apple, I realised that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get started.”
Bravo Steve! His products embodied his inherent belief that technological development and respect for artists and their copyright go hand in hand. Production companies and artists may not always be happy with Apple's terms of trade, but fundamentally Apple respects copyright.
Regrettably, the recent report by the Productivity Commission into our intellectual property arrangements has failed to heed this lesson. It makes radical recommendations that favour technology companies but which would have a deeply detrimental impact on film and television makers, writers, artists and journalists ability to tell Australian stories.
The Productivity Commission appears to believe that its recommendations will miraculously lead to a profusion of Silicon Valley's around the country. But its report does not demonstrate how the change in legislation it proposes will lead to this innovation. Moreover, it pays no attention to what actually drives innovation namely access to capital, human talent, a business culture that supports risk and certainty in underlying settings.
It also fails to recognise the success stories of many digital businesses in Australia, which have thrived because we have strong copyright and intellectual property arrangements. These businesses include Seek, REA, Atlassian and even the AFL, which runs one of the most successful and innovative sports codes in the world.
Having dismally failed to demonstrate how their proposed changes will drive innovation, the Productivity Commission flies headlong into recommendations that would seriously undermine the ability of Australian creators to keep producing content.
Take, their recommendation that the Government introduce a new 'fair use regime'. This is an American legal principle that would allow large enterprises to use copyright material for their own purposes either for free or at very significantly reduced rates to what they currently pay today under our copyright system.
PwC has estimated that the introduction of such a system in Australia would result in the loss of GDP in the order of $1 billion dollars. This loss occurs because less money would flow to Australian production companies and artists, which would undermine their ability to keep investing and telling Australian stories. In short, it's a hit job on Australian creators.
One of the many disturbing things about the Productivity Commission’s approach is that they appear to take the dismay at their recommendations expressed by major Australian companies that create Australian content, as a measure of the soundness of the Commission's arguments. But they do not pause to consider whether the repeated cheers from lobby groups like the Australian Digital Alliance mean they've got the balance wrong.
The fact is that the Australian Digital Alliance, far from being a disinterested advisory group, is a lobby group which is supported by large technology companies and education interests. There is nothing wrong with such groups putting their views. But these views should be taken for what they are - the views of a lobby group.
Peter Martin, one of Fairfax Media's economic writers, appears to take a similar prejudiced view as the Productivity Commission against organisations that represent Australian writers, publishers and artists. In a recent piece he questioned why the Copyright Agency Board had set money aside over a period of time, capped at $15 million, to defend the rights of its 43,000 members.
The reason for provisioning this money is simple: any Board that does not prudently provision for the risk of a calamitous regulatory change which is being pushed by entities as powerful as the Australian Digital Alliance, would be guilty of extreme negligence.
By the end of this financial year we will have distributed close to $465 million to members since we started gradually setting aside monies for the fund in 2013. The money we have distributed supports creativity. We have a duty to our members to ensure they continue to get fair payment for use of their work by education enterprises and businesses.
The Copyright Agency will always support the inalienable right for creators to control the permissions and terms for the use of their work.
None of the above is to say that we should not continue to evolve the Copyright Act. We should continue to update the Act. This is why we strongly supported the recent changes that simplify the education licence provisions, make it easier for libraries to exhibit material and enhance access to copyright material for the visually impaired.
All major copyright owners and representatives also continue to engage productively with Government on constructive changes in our copyright system.
But clearly any changes to our current settings must remember what Jobs said: Technology development and content creation are not in opposition to each other - they must go hand in hand or creative companies will disappear or never get started.
Kim Williams is chair of the Copyright Agency. A version of this article was published originally in the Sydney Morning Herald.