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The changing face of media - Part 3

By Chris Abood - posted Friday, 15 July 2005


Imagine if the world’s economic system worked in the same way as the entertainment industry does. Not only would you pay to have your house built, but also you would have to pay a royalty every time you or a guest walked through the front door. Not only would you have to pay for a toaster but also you would have to pay a royalty every time you put some bread in it to be toasted. As a computer programmer, not only would I get paid to develop that application but also I would receive a royalty every time the program is used. I would have been able to retire years ago.

Under current copyright laws within Australia it is illegal to tape a TV show. It is illegal to tape a song from the radio. It is illegal to make a backup of your CD or DVD. It is illegal to convert your legitimately bought videos to DVD. It is illegal to convert you legitimately bought vinyl records to CD. It is illegal to copy songs from a legitimately bought CD, video or DVD to your PC. It is illegal to transfer your songs from a legitimately bought CD to a portable music player such as an IPod. I could go on. There are some exceptions to copying of copyrighted material, but these are generally not available to the wider community. Copyrighted material has a life span of 70 years.

The current copyright act was introduced in 1968, when computers were the size of a room and programs were fed in via punch cards. Networked computers were still just a research concept. The current copyright law is grossly inadequate for the digital age that we live in. In fact, the current copyright laws are under serious threat of collapse. Until now, Federal Government and the courts have dealt with copying copyrighted material by turning a blind eye if the copying is for personal use. However, the entertainment industry is now no longer willing to even allow this. Court action against people downloading copyrighted material from the internet seems to now be a weekly event.

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The government is currently reviewing the copyright act to bring it into the digital age. This review is mainly concerned with the concept of fair use. Fair use has already been enabled in US copyright law. Under the current Australian copyright law, there are four exceptions to copyright under fair use: for research or study; criticism or review; reporting of news; and professional advice given by a legal practitioner, patent attorney or trade mark attorney.

Clearly, fair use needs to be extended to include personal use, that is obtaining copyrighted material that is solely for fair use where the copyrighted material is sourced from a no cost medium (such as a free-to-air TV station). This would mean that you are not in violation of the copyright act if you record a TV show from a free-to-air television station or a song from a free-to-air radio station, but you would be in violation if you acquired the copyrighted material from a DVD that needed to be purchased or rented.

Fair use should also be extended to allow the purchaser of copyrighted material to access it in whatever medium they prefer. So after buying a CD, you should be allowed to listen to it on your car CD, from your PC, your sound system or from your portable player. You should also be allowed to convert your old vinyl records and videotapes.

But this review needs to go further. It needs to incorporate the concept of accessibility. That is, if the owners of the copyrighted material do not release it into the market place within a reasonable timeframe, then consumers have the right to access this material if available elsewhere. So if a TV station holding the rights to a TV show refuses to air the show after a reasonable time, then viewers would have the right to access the show from other sources. This would include downloading the show from P2P networks.

The current 70-year protection for copyright holders is far too excessive and needs to be brought down to 10 years. After 10 years, the copyrighted material could then become in the public domain. Also the concept of copyright is to protect the creator. To this end, it goes against the spirit of copyright for it to be a tradeable commodity. The review of the copyright act should put control of the material back in the hands of the creators and out of the hands of companies.

The entertainment industry is at a crossroads. Technology has rendered current copyright laws almost useless. The cost structure of the entertainment industry is clearly unsustainable. Continually suing people for downloading a song off the internet is not going to solve their problems. More creative ways of getting consumers and entertainment products together need to be implemented; otherwise, the current entertainment industry risks joining the horse and buggy companies and the telegraph companies.

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About the Author

Chris Abood is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia and a member of the Australian Computer Society. Besides having a day job, he teaches ICT part time at TAFE. He is concerned with the effects and use of technology within society. These opinions are his own.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Chris Abood
Related Links
On Line Opinion - The changing face of media - Part 1
On Line Opinion - The changing face of media - Part 2

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