Australia is a peculiar country. We are wealthy, isolated, large in size but small in population.
These features have conspired for some time to deny Australian consumers access to the newest media. Our release windows for film, music and televisions shows have been later, our range sparser and our prices, well, higher.
For a long time, we lived with this—partly because there were few other options, but mostly because we simply didn’t know any better.
But that is changing very fast. The ease with which content can now be streamed or downloaded from across the world means that our media companies will need to dramatically improve their game in order to survive.
Pretending that this pesky internet thing does not exist is simply not sustainable. If we continue to deny consumers access to highly demanded media in an accessible, timely and affordable manner, they will increasingly turn to the alternative that meets those needs: piracy.
This helps nobody. As both a content producer and a consumer organisation, CHOICE condemns piracy—and all of our efforts in this space are directed at helping consumers to access legitimate content.
Where Australian-based businesses fail to provide the content consumers want, we encourage consumers to use measures to get around geoblocking, like virtual private networks, in order to access legitimate content from services that are normally blocked to Australians.
Our woefully out-of-date copyright laws are another important part of this problem.
If you set out to design a law that consumers would inevitably and unknowingly break, in their millions, every day, the Australian Copyright Act would be what you would end up with.
In Australia it is legal to make a copy of a VHS for personal use, but not a DVD or film in digital format. Why? Because our copyright law refers only to ‘videotapes’. Try asking anybody under the age of 10 what a videotape is.
This exception was not added in the 1980s, when videotapes entered widespread use, but in 2006. By that time, Australians had already moved on from VHS technology, with 83% of households owning a DVD player.
If Australia couldn’t recognise DVDs in our laws in 2006, what hope do we have for cloud computing or social media?
That is why CHOICE would like to see copyright reform based on clear, enduring principles, rather than particular technologies. Those principles should allow consumers to use content they legally obtain in ways that are fair and reasonable, without undermining the rights of creators.
Copyright reforms based on ‘fair use’ as proposed by the Australian Law Reform Commission would provide broad principles, to help determine what is legal for consumers. This would be based on ‘fairness factors’ that consider what is being used and how, and the impact the use has on the market for the material. This would uphold the ability of artists and creators to earn an income from their work.
It is disappointing to see the hostility of some industry lobbyists to fair use, because the reality is that fair use, creativity and innovation are close friends. Where would the music industry be without the MP3 player today? How much would culture and public discourse suffer from the removal of mash-ups and memes from YouTube and Reddit? How would all creative industries suffer without search engines to connect people with products?
Our media companies and law makers face some big decisions in the next few years, which will determine what sort of country we are able to become—a nation that sits at the cutting edge of creativity and innovation, or one with second rate media products, supported by antiquated laws.
Times are changing in the market for content, and that is a good thing. It is time to embrace these changes, and their potential, rather than clinging to the past.
Alan Kirkland is the CEO of CHOICE.