Saturday, May 14, 2016

The (Un)Productivity Commission

The Australian Productivity Commission's latest draft report contains a section called Copy(not)right, which demonstrates how Government-funded economists really don't 'get' the creative industry in Australia. Or maybe they just hate writers, film-makers and musos. 

See end of post for an update from the Australian Government.

One of their draft recommendations proposes (yet again) the abandonment of Australian territorial copyright. This ‘zombie idea’ refuses to die even though it was roundly dismissed as ludicrous last time we had this debate (in 2009).

For a very good summary of why the recommendation would destroy Australian creative output as well as a local multi-million-dollar industry, read this article in The Guardian

The other thought bubble that came out from the Commission was to limit the length of copyright protection for authors to 15 to 25 years after publication. Yes, you read that right. But let's put aside the obvious reaction that it's not fair to say you no longer own something you created  just because 15 years have elapsed and look at the Productivity Commission's 'reasoning', which goes like this:
  1. Excessive periods of copyright mean the price of material is kept artificially high. Presumably they haven’t noticed the introduction of ebooks where material is often available for $3 or less, particularly material that is a few years old (unless we’re talking about international bestsellers). 
  2.  Older material still under copyright is removed from sale and no longer available to the public. Again, anyone who’s looked at the ebook market would see that material VERY RARELY becomes unavailable, and in fact a lot of out of print books are now available again as ebooks. 
  3. Australia’s copyright term is excessive i.e. life plus 70 years. The term was increased from life plus 50 years NOT at the urging of Australian authors, but because Australia signed a Free Trade Agreement with the US, which required it. 
  4.  Literary works only provide a financial return between 1 and 5 years on average. The ’on average’ is important here, and this point also fails to consider trilogies and other multi-book series developed over a number of years. 
  5.  Three-quarters of original titles are retired after a year, and by 2 years 90% of titles are out of print. This is actually rubbish (see point 2). 
  6.  A study (from 2002!) argues that a term of around 25 years allows rights holders to earn revenue comparable to what they would receive in perpetuity. I’d suggest this assertion is a little old! The royalty landscape has changed significantly since then (to the detriment of authors). 
  7.  The paper goes on to note that the study’s estimate of 25 years was based on a low discount rate and that a higher rate would mean the term should be longer. Given the prevailing heavy discounting on books (especially ebooks) and lower royalties for authors, it’s clear that 25 years would NOT allow the owner to earn sufficient revenue. 
  8.  Another study (from 2007) states more creative works would be produced if the copyright period was lowered to 15 years. There’s no rationale given for this argument, but it clearly doesn’t make sense. That kind of copyright period would be a complete disincentive to creators.

And that’s the whole rationale. An argument that does not consider the real-world environment that now includes ebooks, and uses two studies from 14 and 9 years ago. Not exactly a convincing, comprehensively researched proposal from what is meant to be our peak productivity agency. 

If you’d like to express your rage at how frakked up this whole report is, please add your name to the Australian Society of Authors’ petition


Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield has released a statement clarifying that the federal government does not intend to reduce the life of copyright to 15 to 25 years after creation, following claims to this effect made by a number of prominent authors over the past week.

The Books Create campaign said Fifield’s clarification was an ‘outright rejection’ of the ‘recommendation to reduce the term of an author’s copyright to 15-25 years from creation’, and ‘calls into question why the Draft Report strayed so far beyond Australian law and international trade agreements’. ‘It also calls into question other recommendations in the report about US-style fair use and territorial copyright–which together underpin the economic model of the Australian book publishing industry,’ they said.
 Source: Bookseller and Publisher
I have to say if that is the government's intention, the whole release of the report has been a complete fiasco, added to the fact that it's just not very well researched or written.

It's still important that the other recommendations on territorial copyright and 'fair use' get buried. Sign the ASA petition (link above) if you haven't already done so.

This article originally appeared in Beyond, my free newsletter for lovers of science and science fiction. Sign up here -

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