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May 20th, 2016 - And Ye Shall Know Us By Our Trail of Web

About May 20th, 2016

Authors response to the Productivity Commission report 10:27 am
Reposted here so those not on Facebook can access and link to it if they want.

OK, I've had this discussion enough times that I should just make a post to refer people to. This is a giant rant about copyright law debate, so most of you should feel free to skip over it.

Australian authors, please stop freaking out about the copyright term discussion in the Productivity Commission report on copyright. The bit you should be concerned about is the recommendation to lift parallel import restrictions, and arguments about the copyright term distract from your point and make you easier to dismiss.

You should not worry about the copyright term discussion because it was not a recommendation, just a part of the discussion. The PC recognises that copyright term is the subject of multiple international treaties, and we can't just change it without massive consequences, so all they actually recommended was that we stop being one of the countries that argues that copyright term should increase, and start recommending it be reduced. As we are currently one of the minority of countries that has (and actively argues for internationally, because DFAT are jerks) Death +70 years, effectively they are just arguing that we should try to return to Death +50 years as an international norm and then maybe think about where we should go from there. Given the first part would require rejecting the TPP and renegotiating the free trade agreement with the US, this isn't likely to result in drastic change soon.

I agree that their copyright term analysis is not a very good finding, and their economic analysis is badly flawed in ways that could easily be demolished by a good grad student, but that doesn't matter, because the sole recommendation they drew from it IS reasonable, because the current copyright term is much longer than you need it to be, and vastly longer than their economic analysis suggests it should be. If you are a writer and you are middle aged or younger and your life is not cut short, your copyright will not expire until the 22nd century, probably after your children are dead, possibly your grandchildren too. It matters a lot to Disney, but even optimistic analysis says it might change your income by 0.03% - and statistically, it just means that after you die your books will become orphan works. Most authors I know who have expressed an opinion on term length directly would be happy with Death +50 or even Death +25, which means that while they might dispute the PCs analysis, they are actually OK with their recommendation.

The other copyright law recommendation they made is fair use replacing fair dealing. This is irrelevant to the income of most professional writers, and helps the few that it is directly relevant to (such as historians and biographers, satirists, security researchers, etc). And it makes a huge difference to other industries (eg Google have stated Internet search engines would be legally unfeasible in Australia). and our current laws are clunky and unfit for the modern world (for example, did you realise it was illegal to record a TV program to watch later until 2006?). And the arguments that I've seen authors organisations make against fair use are straight from the movie and record industry lobby groups, and really not relevant to the book industry. Please stop opposing fair use. The US has it, and their publishing industry is doing a lot better than ours.

Argue against parallel importation by all means (it will hurt the Australian industry, and the evidence that it works as the PC say it will is limited - eg didn't work in New Zealand). Argue against it hard. You will need to, because the economic argument for it is strong, even if it has not worked elsewhere. Argue for the cultural value of Australian writing, argue that a vital industry is badly lacking in other forms of support, etc. Argue that the government is gutting other forms of support (such as literary grants) at the same time when they should be increasing them, paint the government as literary vandals and philistines only interested in supporting big highbrow art for the top end of town etc.

But please, stop making bad or irrelevant arguments about copyright. It's not helping your cause, and it's putting you in conflict with groups that should be supporting you, like libraries, universities and free speech organisations.
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