Copyright law reform

Is a fair-use system the way to go?
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01.Copyright and fair use

Music and movies are the wallpaper of our digital lives, but copyright law hasn’t kept up with the way we want to enjoy our entertainment. Will copyright law reform liberate us as a nation of consumers?

Many of us have become masters of our own digital domain – buying movies and music online, and copying them to our phones and tablets, transferring files to media hubs to watch on our TVs or storing files in the cloud. However, many people may not realise they're breaking the law to do these things with the media they legally own.

Copyright law that protects creative endeavour hasn’t kept pace with the way technology has enabled people to enjoy their digital content on all of their devices. The government through the Australian Law Reform Commission is reviewing copyright. It’s an opportunity for the law to catch up with the rapid changes in technology that have taken place over the last few years.

The review will consider a range of options; such as a fair-use system that allows consumers to use music, movies and other legally obtained media privately without unnecessary restrictions.

CHOICE supports fair use, and thinks we need a copyright system that rewards artists and creators, but still allows consumers flexibility in the way they watch and store digital content they have bought or otherwise legally own.

Sign our fair use pledge.

Legal or illegal?

Do you know what’s allowable under current copyright law? CHOICE asked 1000 Aussies if they know what's currently legal.

Around half of consumers thought that it was legal to copy or transfer DVD content to other devices. 


About one-third thought that it was legal to create copies of digital video content and lend it someone in their family. 


About one-half assumed that it is also legal to copy or transfer music content onto multiple devices. 


About 60% of people don’t know if it’s okay to share images they have created as a meme online. 


Only one-fifth know it’s okay to access movies/TV shows/ music content not usually accessible to Australians online. 


What CHOICE wants

CHOICE believes that Australian copyright laws are out of date. We want the copyright laws to reflect how consumers are using their legally obtained content like music and movies.

Australia’s rigid approach to copyright means that the law needs to be constantly amended to address issues as they arise. Australian copyright law does not take into account existing technologies, let alone anticipate new ones.

For this reason, CHOICE supports a fair-use model because it recognises how people are already using their legal content for their own purposes.

What is fair use?

Fair use provides a broad set of principles that determine what is and isn't illegal with regard to how people use copyrighted material. Instead of a list of specific exceptions, which is what Australia has now, Fair Use is based on ‘fairness factors’ to weigh up whether certain ways of using copyright material should be legal.

The fairness factor will consider factors such as what type of media or digital content is being used and how, and the impact the use has on the commercial market for the material. Fair use will specifically exclude any use that infringes copyright.

Fair use is intended to outline broad categories or types of use that will be defined as fair and will function as exemptions from copyright law.

It will also mean that consumers will be able to legally do things like copy a movie onto their tablet to watch on the train, or to back up their music collection to the cloud. It will also encourage new innovations and technologies, which will benefit consumers.

Consumers could be breaking the law without realising that enjoying their movies or music on different devices isn’t always legal. Choice asked 1000 Australian consumers about what they know and do with their copyright material and the results show that there are many areas of confusion for people about what they can legally do with the music, movies and files they have bought or lawfully own.

Copyright: what you need to know

  • Copyright protection is free and applies automatically when material is created.
  • It's a legal protection for people who invest their time, talent and other resources in creating new cultural and educational material, which benefits society.
  • It doesn't need to be registered in Australia.
  • Copyright does not protect ideas, information, styles, techniques, names, titles or slogans.
  • There are no general exemptions from copyright law for non-profit organisations.
  • There are some situations where copyright law allows people to use copyright material without permission for their own personal use, but these are narrow and specific.
  • Copyright law applies to actions that take place in Australia, even if the material used was created or first published in another country.
  • The US—Australia Free Trade Agreement in 2005 changed copyright law and one of the things it altered was the length of time copyright lasts. In Australia, copyright generally lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years.


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