The government this week gave itself until “mid-2017” to work out whether it supports years of reports calling for changes to copyright and intellectual property (IP) protections.
The latest report to advocate change is the Productivity Commission’s final report on Australia’s IP arrangements; it’s an extension of the draft report it published back in April.
If you’re familiar with the draft report, not much in the final report is going to be that surprising.
Two of the key actions sought in both reports are the adoption of the US concept of “fair use”, where parts of copyright material can be used without needing to seek permission from its owner, and clarification that circumventing geo-blocked content is permissible under Australian law.
Of course, neither is a unique call by the Productivity Commission.
The fair use exception was called for by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in its earlier review of copyright.
In fact, governments have spent the past decade consulting on the introduction of fair use to replace the current “fair dealing” rules, which are far more complicated.
Back in 2014, right after the ALRC made its call for fair use, Brandis said he “remains to be persuaded” that Australia needs a fair use clause in its copyright law.
The difficulty is that the Productivity Commission’s call for fair use isn’t materially different from the ALRC’s. It acknowledges the ALRC recommendation as the impetus for its own.
It’s much the same story when it comes to the Productivity Commission’s calls to clarify copyright law to ensure Australians know they can circumvent content geo-blocks at will.
The Productivity Commission recommended in both reports that “the Australian Government should make clear that it is not an infringement of Australia’s copyright system for consumers to circumvent geo-blocking technology and should avoid international obligations that would preclude such practices.”
Clarifying the status of geo-blocking has been recommended elsewhere: namely the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications’ report At What Cost? IT pricing and the Australia tax.
“Given the prevalence of geo-blocks it is unsurprising consumers seek to circumvent them, often through the use of virtual private network services to mask their online location, making it appear as if they are located overseas,” the Productivity Commission said.
“The Commission considers that there is a strong case for resolving the ambiguity in favour of consumers.
“In the Commission’s view, as a minimum step, the Australian Government should prevent the future possibility that rights holders seek to use ambiguity in the Australian copyright system to prevent consumers’ circumvention of geo-blocks.”
An FAQ hosted by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull notes that VPN usage to circumvent geo-blocks isn’t illegal in Australia.
Though this remains the case, it hasn’t stopped rights holders from agitating for change, and it remains unclear how forward the government might be in clarifying this inside the actual laws.