Following the Copyright panel at Vivid Ideas (great to see copyright featuring at #vividideas!) we have republished the blog post for the event, because we think it shows some of the burning issues the panel worked through during the session, as well as a fun look at mythbusting some common misconceptions.  As follows.......

With the internet changing the way we create, share and access information, the question is, when it comes to copyright, as a consumer, are you breaking the law? As a creative, are you protected?

After a review of copyright in the context of the digital economy, in February 2014, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) recommended that Australia introduce ‘fair use’ as a defence to copyright infringement.

Many in the tech and start-up ecosystem find Australia’s current copyright provisions restrictive and inflexible. On the other hand, musicians, film-makers, writers, innovators and other creatives in the digital area have argued strongly for ensuring that IP is protected, perhaps putting the onus on internet services providers to take responsibility for illegal downloads and sharing.

Would a “fair use” provision be an adequate protection for innovators, or is it a vague term which would reduce a creative’s right to decide where and how their content is used?

The issue of copyright is a hot topic, and not a simple one. Beyond the Review: Copyright and the Digital Economy brings together a panel of industry experts who are leading the charge in this field to debate the future of copyright in Australia.

As creative practitioners, our “rights literacy” can often be pretty limited, so we’ve asked some of the key players in the sector to bust some common copyright myths.

1.         If I change more than 10% of the words (or image) am I infringing copyright?

Most probably!  There’s no magic number of words/images/changes you can make to something that will stop it being a breach of copyright.  Copyright doesn’t protect just identical copy, it also protects copying of a part of a work (anything more than an ‘insubstantial’ part) or making an adaptation.  Adaptions such as translation or screen plays that might change all the word in a work would still be a breach of copyright if done without permission.  

2.         Is it okay to move my legally purchased content around my own personal devices?

That depends on exactly what you want to move. Because the laws around personal format shifting are technology specific, you can copy a legally-acquired videotape to your tablet, but you can’t do the same for a DVD.  The Australian Copyright Council (ACC) has a useful sheet setting out what you can and can’t legally do titled ‘Copying & Converting Formats for Private


3.         With so many regulations, who is monitoring these and does anybody actually get sued for infringement?

There’s been an increase in the ability to monitor copyright infringement, especially with the increasing use of digital content.  Some sites (think YouTube) automatically check uploads for copyright content.  People found to be infringing copyright may be asked to stop using the content, be asked for compensation or may,at the extreme, end up in court.  However, realistically, most of us breach copyright several times a day without even noticing it, and most of these very minor infringements (unauthorised doodles, forwarding emails etc) slip under the radar.  That doesn’t make them legal however.

4.         Can I use pictures found from Google image searches without worrying about getting permission?

Only if they are openly licenced (for example Creative Commons licenced) or public domain (no copyright) images.  You can choose to search certain types of licenced images in the advanced search option, or there are several sites that specialise in only open licenced or public domain images.    If you can’t see any licencing information, then it is wise to assume that it is ‘all rights reserved’. 

5.         Do I need to register my copyright in order to protect it?

No, copyright automatically exists as soon as you create the work.  There are some circumstances where the copyright in something you create will not belong to you – for example works you make as an employee doing your job normally belong to the employer.  It is always a good idea to put some indication of how you want your copyright to be observed, so the © symbol for ‘all rights reserved’ or an open licence if you’d like others to share your work. 

6.         What are these reforms and how will they impact me?

The ALRC made several recommendations to update copyright. The headline recommendation is a flexible ‘fair use’ exception, which would allow people to make some uses of copyright material without permission if the use was fair.  Examples where uses might be fair would be copying a DVD you own to your tablet to watch while travelling or an artist making a mash-up work from TV advertisements.  For each use though you have to consider what is being done, what sort of work is being used, how much is being used and most importantly whether it has a negative effect on the copyright holder.  Fair use is the system that exists in the USA.  By focussing on whether a use is fair (as opposed to the purpose of a use as the current exceptions do) it can adapt to changes in technology and markets. 

The ALRC also made some more technical recommendations about reform of the statutory licences (education, government and disabilities) library and archive use and some government uses, as well as making some suggestions on broadcasts and retransmissions for the government to consider at a later date.  The ADA has a summary of the recommendations on the website.

7.         Will reform recommendations be implemented?

In his speech just after the ALRC report was made public, the Attorney-General indicated that he was looking to overhaul and update the entire copyright act.  So as well as the ALRC recommendations, other issues such as internet piracy and perpetual copyright in unpublished works may also be considered.  The exact shape of the reform is not yet known, but that some reform is needed is obvious.  As the Attorney-General himself remarked, the current Copyright Act is ‘overly long, unnecessarily complex, often comically outdated and all too often, in its administration, pointlessly bureaucratic. 


#2 is not quite correct - if a DVD has a TPM that enforces geographical market segmentation (e.g. a region code) then you can indeed format shift it in order to circumvent that TPM.

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