On copyright

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Kim Williams’ dystopian nightmate of the future of copyright” (yesterday). Crikey’s barrack-room lawyer, Josh Taylor, is at it again. Now he’s supporting the extremist agenda of the Productivity Commission.

The Berne Convention of 1886 set a global standard of copyright protection for 50 years after the death of the author. Around the turn of this century, the European Union and the USA extended this to 70 years. Australia followed suit. The Productivity Commission’s proposal of 15-25 years after the creation of the work is not “an attempt to swing the pendulum back”. It is swinging a wrecking ball.

People often say that authors and artists get nothing from copyright. This is not true. J R R Tolkien sold the movie and merchandising rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to United Artists and retired to a seaside resort. Therefore, he was able to share in the profits from the movies that were made long after his death. This kind of deal would not be possible under the proposal.

John Marsden wrote the book Tomorrow, When the War Began in 1993. The book and its sequels have been made into a movie and a TV series. However, under the proposed rule, the book would be out of copyright or approaching it. Rather than paying the author, a film-maker could save money by waiting a few years.

And if Australia had a short copyright term, while everyone else had 50 or 70 years after the death of the author, what would that make Australia? A pirate island?

CEO Internet Australia Laurie Patton writes: Twice in one week … ? Did he mention that the PC wants an end to geoblocking? This anti-competitive practice has seen Australian consumers relentlessly price-gouged on overseas content for decades. It also helped prop up the profits of Foxtel, which Williams ran for all those years on the mantra of maximising ARPU (average revenue per user)  rather than lowering prices and thereby increasing subscriber numbers. Foxtel never attracted more than 30% of households (very ordinary compared to most other countries) and now stands on a precipice as Netflix eats its lunch and the free-to-air networks deliver more sport on their extra digital channels.

Peter Fray

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