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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02.Fair copyright rules for all media


Copyright laws are not the same for copying CDs, DVDs and photographs

The issue

What is the difference between a digital audio file and a digital video file?

You might think it’s just that one just plays sound while the other plays moving images. But under Australian copyright law there are very different rules for what consumers can do with digital audio files and digital video files.

Consumers are allowed to format shift their digital audio files but are prohibited from doing the same to digital video files. So we can legally transfer songs from a CD to our MP3 players but we cannot copy a DVD onto a laptop computer.

There are two main reasons for this difference:

  • The first reason is that most DVDs come with technological protection measures to stop copying, whereas most CDs do not. It has been illegal to circumvent technological protection measures, even for otherwise legal purposes, since our Copyright Act was changed in 2006 to comply with the Australian US Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
  • The second reason is that consumers have do not have a general right to make reasonable use of their legally acquired copyrighted material. Instead, we have complex 'fair dealing' exceptions to copyright infringement, that allow consumers limited rights to private use of their legally acquired copyrighted material.

These 'fair dealing' exceptions apply very differently to different types of media. So even if a copyrighted DVD had no copy protection, it would still be a copyright infringement to transfer the digital video file to another device like a laptop hard drive — even though it would have been perfectly legal had it involved an audio file.

To add to the complexity, there are different rules for what a consumer can do with analogue video and digital video. There is a 'fair dealing' exception that allows consumers to transfer their analogue video-tapes (eg, a VHS tapes) onto a digital format like a DVD. This is supposed to allow "consumers to continue to be able to view films purchased on video cassette without the need to maintain a video cassette player which are increasingly obsolescent" according to the Attorney General’s Department.

However, once in a digital format any further transfers to newer digital formats are not allowed. So if you had transferred a video-tape onto DVD, you would not be allowed to transfer it to newer digital formats even if DVDs became obsolete technology. Nor are you entitled to transfer it to a different format for more convenient viewing.

There are different rules for consumers again on photographs where someone else owns the copyright (of course, if you take the photo yourself, you own the copyright on it and can do what you like with it). Analogue-to-digital format shifting is allowed (eg, scanning a photo to a hard drive). So is digital-to-analogue shifting (printing a photo on a hard drive). But consumers are not allowed to make digital-to-digital copies nor are they allowed to make analogue-to-analogue copies.

Furthermore, while multiple copies of format shifted audio files are allowed, only one copied item of a video-tape or a photograph is permitted.

Confused yet? It’s no wonder that most consumers don’t understand copyright law, leaving them at risk of infringing unknowingly or conversely, being too cautious to make full use of the rights they do have.

Consumers should be able to make reasonable use of all their legally acquired media for legitimate private purposes. They should not have to navigate a complex web of confusing legal exceptions to know what they can and cannot do.

The government is currently reviewing the Copyright Act’s 'fair dealing' exceptions for copying photos and films for private use.

What we want

The current system of complex 'fair dealing' exceptions is too confusing for consumers to easily understand or remember. This can disadvantage consumers by either putting them at risk of making unknowing copyright infringements, or alternatively losing out on the benefit of the rights they do have.

CHOICE wants:

  • Consumers to have easy to understand copyright laws that allow them to make reasonable use of all their legally acquired media for legitimate private purposes.
  • Simple and fair copyright rules that are the same for all media which recognise the growing need for flexibility of uses.
  • Further review of copyright law to ensure that consumers are adequately able to exercise these 'fair dealing' exceptions for legitimate private uses.
  • The creation of an exception to the prohibition on circumvention of technological protection measures to allow consumers to exercise their 'fair dealing' rights.

What we're doing

CHOICE has made a submission  to the Attorney-General’s Department in their review of copying photos and films for private use.

Format shifting explained

Format shifting is the act of copying digital or analogue media from one technological format to another.

  • Examples of digital formats are CDs, DVDs, computer hard drives, portable music players (MP3 players), DVD players with hard drives and computer image files like JPEGs.
  • Examples of analogue formats are VHS video tapes, records, audio cassette tapes, and hard copy photographs.

Format shifting can be digital to digital, like copying an audio file from a CD onto a computer hard drive; it can be analogue to analogue, such as transferring a record to a cassette tape; it can be analogue to digital, like transferring a video to DVD; or it can be digital to analogue, like making a copy of a CD on an audio cassette tape.

More information

The Attorney-General’s links on copyright.
The Attorney-General’s discussion paper and collected submissions for the review of copying photos and films for private use.



DVD region codes unfairly limit consumer options. We want to know what you think about DVD zoning.

The global DVD marketplace has been divided into eight “zones”. In each zone, DVDs are enscribed with a region code and will only successfully play on equipment with a matching region code. This means that a DVD produced in one region can only be played on a player from within that region.

Producers and distributors use region coding to "segment" markets. They say it allows them to release films in cinemas on a staggered schedule to maximise box-office receipts. They say receipts could be hurt if new movie releases were all available on DVD at the same time around the world.

What we think

This artificial manipulation of supply makes life difficult for consumers.

Genuine DVDs lawfully purchased overseas and brought into Australia for private use do not infringe Australian copyright law but consumers will face problems using them.

  • Many consumers will not realise that they will be unable to play them on most equipment purchased in Australia. DVDs are not sold with prominent warnings that they will not work in a foreign region.
  • Consumers who are aware of the impact of DVD zoning may be tempted to find a way to view DVDs from other zones, either by modifying equipment or downloading widely available software for this purpose. However doing this means the consumer will almost certainly lose the warranty on the equipment for deliberately tampering with it.
  • Consumers may purchase DVD multi region players or equipment specific to an overseas zone playing equipment but for many this will not be practicable.
  • DVD zoning imposes a significant barrier to global Internet shopping.

In addition overseas travellers are not able to confidently purchase DVDs on their journey and DVD zoning undermines the second-hand market in DVDs as consumers can’t be certain a DVD will work on their equipment.  

What we want

Current law enables copyright owners to increase their profits at significant cost to Australian consumers. Australia should take a strong pro-consumer position in international treaty negotiations. In the meantime, the Copyright Act should be amended. The Act should:

  • prohibit DVD zoning in Australia;
  • allow consumers to modify their equipment or download software as needed to successfully play content on DVDs from other regions;
  • allow the sale and import of multi-zone DVD players;

In addition, the ACCC should ensure consumers are not misled or otherwise disadvantaged by:

  • monitoring disclosure made about hardware and software affected by the DVD zoning arrangements to ensure that consumers are not misled;
  • investigating to what extent DVD zoning harms consumers;
  • investigating how content owners and equipment manufacturers co-operate and find out if their co-operation breaches the Trade Practices Act.

What you can do

  • You should be wary of purchasing DVD hardware and software from suppliers outside the Australian/NZ/Pacific Islands/Central and South America zone.
  • You can write to your Member of Parliament (Commonwealth) letting him or her know your views. 

DVD Zoning and TPMs

In September 2006 the Commonwealth government released an exposure draft of legislation to implement the TPM provisions of the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement. The legislation will outlaw attempts to circumvent technological protection measures (TPM's) which protect copyright material. This legislation presents a perfect opportunity to fix the DVD zoning problem as explained by law academic Kim Weatherall here.

04.DVD zoning - what you're saying


We've received plenty of emails from consumers telling us about their experiences with DVD Zoning.

  • “I just wanted to express my support for the CHOICE position on this issue. It seems to be another example of where the system operates to benefit manufacturers and not consumers.”
    Name not supplied, NSW
  • “I hope the DVD buying public to make their voice known to the federal government so as to make a more competitive market place. I thought that signing the agreement with America for all sorts of trade would have allowed more competition in this marketplace for us. Appears not.”
    Gavin, location not disclosed
  • “I have heard of people returning rented DVD’s to the shop in exchange for a VHS version because the DVD would not work. Sounds like a technical issue still needs to be addressed with this digital medium. To my fellow video watchers I say don't sell that VCR!”
    Marcus, TAS
  • “This makes it impossible to send my partner’s family and friends legally-bought Region 4 discs of, say, Kath and Kim or any of the great drama mini-series Australia has produced in recent years. Thus Australia misses out on an important opportunity to make cultural exports. Multiply this by thousands of other Australians with friends and family overseas who are also unable to send DVDs from Australia.”
    Name not supplied, SA
  • “Recently I purchased a much sought after DVD from a record store. There was no marking on the DVD cover so I assumed it was either Region 4 or Region 0. However, when I attempted to play the disk, the player gave an error message. I placed the same disk into my computer. The message was that it was a Region 1 disk and I could change the region on the player from 4 but there was a limit on the number of changes that were able to be made.”
    Terence, location not disclosed
  • “Saw a DVD I wanted advertised in Hong Kong but was reticent about buying a zone 3 disc. It is not available anywhere else at the moment. In my opinion these zoning problems are an imposition.”
    Name not supplied, location not disclosed
  • “I am overjoyed to at last see someone address this ridiculous issue. I have a laptop on which I used to watch DVD's in my room (I live in a share house) and have friends who give me DVD's and was unaware of this whole region restriction thing until the last time I watched a DVD and the laptop told me "you have only one region change left". I also think the least they could do is warn you about it when you buy them in the shop as it certainly makes your DVD player laptop a lot less attractive once you figure out that after a few months you will only be allowed to watch DVD's from one region.”
    Tina, location not disclosed.
  • “I agree with Choice's arguments. I am an expatriate Australian and am regularly frustrated by the parochial, small pond ideas reflected in much of our legislation and policy. DVD Zoning is keeping Australia and in particular Australian consumers in the Dark Ages and cutting them off needlessly from the benefits of the technological age and the global economy. The government position is short sighted and benefits a limited number of lobby groups, not the public at large.”
    Name not supplied, FRANCE