The Howard government has released its amendments to the Copyright Amendment Bill. These are due to be debated in Parliament today.

But they should “bone the bill”, says Michael Fraser, Chief Executive of Copyright Agency Ltd. He’s in Canberra today to talk to individual politicians about the bill.

Copyright Agency Ltd believes that “the federal government risks overregulating copyright and penalising Australia’s emerging online creative and publishing markets”, Fraser writes in today’s Financial Review (not online). CAL believes the “wave of copyright amendments will have unintended and detrimental consequences for Australian writers, artists and publishers — and as a result, the public as a whole.”

We now have “20 pages of exceptions to copyright protection”, Fraser tells Crikey, “and these exceptions stifle creativity by providing for more copying and online communication for free without any payment to the author, artist or publisher”.  How does this work? While the government is proposing to strengthen the criminal sanctions for using copyright circumvention devices, they’re also “considering allowing a lot more copying and online communication by law”.  For example, an author who doesn’t want to make their work available for free but puts some of it up on a commercial site could have that work against them, says Fraser. “A library in a corporation could use a copyright circumvention device to get into the site, download a chapter and sell the chapter at ‘cost recovery’ to their customers, without any payment to the author or publisher.”  This would be legal under the proposed amendments, but it seems illogical, according to Fraser. Why should an author “get no return when a corporation accesses and copies their work”?  In order to put their works online, the creative community needs security that they can get a return. And that means copyright protection. By trying to regulate this market which is just being born, says Fraser, the government will discourage the development of “interesting new business models” for dealing with copyright issues.  Fraser is at pains to point out that he has no issue of copyright waiving where an author decides to make their work available for free, but he wants to ensure that artists’ livelihoods are protected, along with copyright.   

Peter Fray

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