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Content owners lock arms in front of Aus content review

Belligerence may backfire

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Following in AFACT’s footsteps, but with quieter tone, the Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA / AMCOS, which stands for Australian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society – think elevator music) asked only for the insertion of the word “protect” or “protection” in terms of reference paragraphs referring to content distribution; and said that “deliver the broadest range of content” should instead say “deliver the broadest range of legally available content” (original authors’ emphasis).

Given that it’s already illegal to deliver content that’s not legally available … but such arguments become recursive to consumers and don’t help us understand how content owners think. However, because we’re talking content industry here, “legally available” has a special meaning. It’s not about whether the content is refused classification (and therefore illegal), or that it might be defamatory (and therefore illegal), or misleading and deceptive (and therefore illegal): to APRA / AMCOS, “legally available” content means only “licensed and remunerated”.

The moguls, united, will never be defeated!

With a blueprint to work from, is it any surprise that the next leg of the motion picture stool was cut to the same length? ASTRA, which represents the Pay TV business, also highlights copyright, saying in its submission that “copyright is a critical issue that must be considered as part of the review”. In a nod to News Corporation’s foaming, pathological detestation of public broadcasters, ASTRA also said that the convergence review should “consider the role ongoing role” of publicly-funded broadcasters.

(As I write this, a cyclone approaches Far-North Queensland; our public broadcaster, the ABC, has devoted a digital radio channel to 24-7 cyclone coverage, is streaming a dedicated Internet channel, and has removed geolocking from the channel so it can be viewed worldwide.)

Joining arms with the moguls and the musicians is the Copyright Council, which has decided that the stated ability of the review to go outside the three Acts mentioned is insufficient. Even though the review already has the ability to advise on copyright (since this is permissible in the terms of reference), it requests (with fewer capitals, underlining and bold fonts than AFACT used) that “all legislation and regulations relevant to these Terms of Reference” be appended with “including copyright” (original author’s emphasis).

And so on, until the pattern emerges.

Australia’s Copyright Act has, according to the content industries, proven inadequate to the task of protecting copyright. When the industry decided to try and get a court to dismantle iiNet’s defence under the Act’s “safe harbour” provisions, it failed; and the industry’s appeal against that ruling is the road-block to any new copyright policy formulations at the moment.

“As recognised in the Attorney General Department’s incoming government brief, policy reform in this area should desirably await the definitive conclusion of … litigation” (between AFACT and iiNET), as Telstra stated in its submission.

The nugget of fact Telstra has highlighted is this: for all their sound and fury, the copyright owners, their sock-puppets and catspaws, wrote their submissions in full knowledge that the government has already been told “leave the Copyright Act alone until AFACT vs. iiNet is decided.”

The shouting from content owners probably won't change the government's current stance. They will have only themselves to blame if AFACT's belligerence is ignored. ®

*In Roadshow Films Pty Ltd & Ors v iiNet Limited (Wikipedia page here), commonly called “AFACT vs iiNet”, the industry argued that iiNet’s lack of enforcement of copyright invalidated its safe harbour protections. The Federal Court disagreed, and the plaintiffs have appealed.

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