Fair copyright rules for consumers

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

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.


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