Fair copyright rules for consumers

We want copyright rules that are fair to consumers.
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  • Updated:9 Mar 2007

01.The issue

Girl with media player

Not many of us are copyright experts, but that’s what we have to be in order to understand what we can and cannot do with our entertainment and information.

Even a simple thing like recording a television program to watch later or copying your legally purchased CDs to your computer was a potential copyright infringement until recent changes by the Federal Government.

The Copyright Amendment Act 2006 has given consumers new rights to time and format-shift some types of media for domestic and private use. So now consumers can legally record a television program to watch later (time-shift) or photocopy a book that they own (format-shift).

However, the Amendment also creates new restrictions and penalties that can prevent consumers using their rights. So while consumers now have the right to copy a purchased CD onto their MP3 player (format-shift), if the CD contains copyright protection software, it is now illegal to circumvent the protection even for a completely legal purpose like format-shifting.

New Consumer Benefits:

  • Time-shifting: Consumers can now record a television program to watch at a later time without infringing copyright, but ‘librarying’ (keeping recordings to watch indefinitely and for repeated use) is not allowed.
  • Format-shifting: Consumers can make digital copies of some types of media, including music files, books, videotapes and photographs, if they own the original. This makes activities like transferring a CD to an MP3 player or computer hard drive legal. However, copying DVDs and computer games is still an infringement.

New Restrictions and Penalties:

  • TPM Circumvention Prohibited: Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) are computer programs that restrict certain uses of digital media. A common example of a TPM is copy protection on many DVDs, computer programs, computer games and some music files. It is now illegal to override any TPM, even if it is for a legal purpose like format-shifting. Fortunately, TPMs imposing region coding on films and computer programs are an exception, so consumers can continue to legally purchase and use multi-region DVD players that override any region-coding.
  • New Criminal Liabilities: More activities are criminal offences and there are increased penalties. Previous draft legislation had harsh penalties that could trap consumers. Innocent actions like accidentally playing music too loud so that it could be heard from a public place were originally going to be strict liability offences. CHOICE and others successfully lobbied for more reasonable penalties. Now these provisions mainly target commercial activity, however, we are worried that some inadvertent uses by consumers could still be considered criminal.

What we want

Despite the new benefits, the law remains confusing and is strongly biased in favour of powerful copyright owners, such as major movie studios and music labels, and the protection of their business distribution models.

  • Consumers need a simple and general right to be able to fairly use all types of media. They should not have to sift through the current jumble of exceptions to infringement that apply to some media and not others.
  • Consumers should also be protected from technology that prevents their fair enjoyment of their purchases. In particular, consumers should be able to override any technological protection measure like copy-protection for any legal purpose.

What we're doing

CHOICE has campaigned for the institution of a broad fair use right for Australian consumers for some time. In conjunction with others, we lobbied to create the time and format-shifting rights for consumers and to remove many of the unfair provisions of the original amendment that would have made simple actions like rewinding a video a copyright infringement.

We are continuing our lobbying efforts in this important area to push for fairer laws for all forms of media use. We are also lobbying for provisions to allow the overriding of TPMs for any legal purpose.

More information

CHOICE's submission to Attorney-Generals Department Issues Paper “Fair Use and Other Copyright Exceptions", July 2005.



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