by Adam Suckling
Mad Max, Muriel Heslop, Deb Mailman, Barnsey, Farnsey, Flume, Sia and Magda. What do they have in common?
We all know them because they represent the best of our creative culture – and our Australian identity. They are unique to us: this sunburnt country, this wide brown land.
We want to sing along with them, laugh with them, even be them because they make us proud to be Australian.
The excitement they generate is epic, while the thing, beyond talent, that is critical to them earning a living – copyright – is considered yawn-inducing.
Until now, copyright might have been thought of as the dry but necessary detail – but the government's Productivity Commission has taken a massive swipe at Aussie creators, influenced by US Big Tech, by suggesting we throw out our fit-for-purpose copyright system and replace it with a complex US doctrine that has enabled profitable enterprises in that country to use the hard-earned work of others for free.
The economic boffins at the commission are holding a candle for a business model that is based on the use of Australian content for free. That's not innovation, that's a rip-off.
The Google Books case is an example of this. The issue was fought through the courts for more than a decade only to land in Google's favour – allowing the giant tech company to copy 20 million books without permission, in fact, without even buying a single book.
But in these days of globalisation, perhaps it's time to stop and think – what do we want for the next generation? What is important to protect?
Don't Australian artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers deserve the right to receive fair payment for their work?
The Productivity Commission treats the creative industries with disdain. In its draft report, it declared an author's copyright in their work ideally should be as little as 15 years in length. The final report still contends copyright is far too long, claiming the commercial life of a work to be just five years.
Outraged authors, such as Anna Funder, Richard Flanagan, Hazel Edwards and Tom Keneally, whose works continue to be sold, in original and adapted forms, ask why, if their works keep resonating with audiences, should they sacrifice income?
Australian copyright laws have been developed and updated regularly – making our copyright system one of the world's most admired. Why? Because our blanket copyright licences allow schools and universities to copy and share everything published in the world for less than the cost of a book for every student, and they do – some 1.5 billion pages of valuable teaching content every year.
That money is paid by education departments and universities to the Copyright Agency and we distribute it to our 43,000 members who are the owners of the copyright material – such as ex-teachers who have become educational authors, publishers, journalists, book illustrators and artists.
These fair payments generate new Australian-made content for our students and students around the world. For instance, anyone with school-age children will have heard of our member 3P Learning's Mathletics or Reading Eggs. Their copyright royalties, earned over decades, underpin their investment in new digital learning platforms – that are used the world over.
In the US, where copyright is less specific there is a much higher level of confusion leading to litigation – something that cash-strapped creatives can ill-afford.
In fact PWC estimates moving to "fair use" would cost our economy over $1 billion dollars – because there would be less Australian-produced content, more job losses and higher copyright litigation costs.
A robust copyright framework is a key driver of investment in Australian stories and content. The push to destroy this framework will rob our Australian creators of fair payment for the hard work they do and imperil the jobs of emerging Australians creatives. Policymakers in Canberra should reject the Productivity Commission's recommendations that will do nothing for Australian consumers but will have untold consequences on the creative industries.
There is room for improvement in copyright but let's remember that Australia's creative eco-system produces books, songs, movies and TV shows that we love. These products are not free to produce and neither should they be free to consume. Free is simply not fair.
This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald, December 21st 2016
Adam Suckling is chief executive of the Copyright Agency.