Friday, 29 April 2016 17:25

IP systems needs reform, no more geoblocking of Internet: Productivity Commission Featured

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IP systems needs reform, no more geoblocking of Internet: Productivity Commission Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net/images

Australians should be allowed to circumvent geoblocking which imposes restrictions on accessing services like Netflix under current intellectual property laws, the Productivity Commission has recommended.

In its draft report released on Friday the commission recommends that action must be taken to “rebalance” the existing IP laws with a new system that balances the interests of rights holders and users.

The commission says that while a good system balances the interests of rights holders and users, Australia’s IP system has swung too far in favour of vocal rights holders and influential IP exporting nations.

According to the commission, many of Australia's IP arrangements are locked-in by trade agreements, frustrating much needed change, but despite these constraints, it has identified a workable bundle of reforms.

Commissioner Karen Chester said, “No matter how you measure it, Australia overwhelmingly imports more IP than it exports — and this gap is widening. Most of the profits from excessive IP rights flow offshore, while Australian consumers and taxpayers are left to pick up the tab”.

The commission’s recommendations have drawn a tick of approval from Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton who called for the end to the site-blocking law.

In its report, the commission says that copyright is important for rewarding creative endeavour, but in Australia, “it is more a case of ‘copy (not)right'”.  “Copyright is pervasive, affecting everyone from hip hop artists sampling music, school children watching a documentary in class, libraries and museums preserving Australia's history, to innovative researchers accessing databases for data mining,” the Commission observes.

And, Commissioner Jonathan Coppel says only genuine innovations should be granted patent protection and “patent fees need to be higher to discourage rights holders from hanging on to patents longer than they need to”.

The commission also expresses concern that copyright protection lasts too long, and that a book written today by an author who lives for another 50 years will be protected until 2136.

To correct these imbalances, it suggests that Australia needs a new, principles-based, fair use exception, to protect user rights without undermining the incentive to create.

“Surveys reveal much online copyright infringement is out of sheer frustration from poor access. The best antidote to copyright infringement is accessible and competitively priced online content, not draconian penalties and big brother enforcement,” Commissioner Chester says.

“Rights holders and their intermediaries need to do more to deliver timely and accessible content. The Government should also make clear that Australians should be able to circumvent geoblocking technology.”

Commissioner Jonathan Coppel says the benefits of IP reform would be far reaching, and true innovation and creativity will be rewarded, “while consumers will have better access to new and cheaper goods and services” and “Australian firms won't have to engage in costly workarounds that hinder follow-on innovation”.

The Commission is seeking submissions on its draft report by 3 June this year and will hold public hearings in June.

Laurie Patton applauded the commission’s report. “We have consistently argued that geoblocking is fundamentally wrong and that it has resulted in unfair price-gouging of Australian consumers for decades,” Patton said.

“International experience has found site-blocking is more effective as a PR stunt than a real solution. You close them down and they reappear in no time on another site and/or with another name – it’s called ‘whack-a-mole’.

“What’s more, anyone with a modicum of technical knowledge can always find a way to access what they want, lawfully or unlawfully. So we are going to inconvenience ISP’s and probably see everyone’s Internet access fees increase as a consequence of the costs of implementing site-blocking, all for a bit of PR?”

Patton says IA believes that the best way to reduce unlawful downloading is to make content available and easily accessible at reasonable prices comparable with similar markets overseas.  

“It would be in the best interests of content creators if we all accepted that the main reason why most people unlawfully download is that they can’t get what they want through legitimate channels. There is ample research evidence that people are willing to pay if they can get the content they’re after. Some surveys have shown that the people who ‘pirate’ are also among the most active legal downloaders.

“We maintain that it is time to accept the pointlessness of current strategies to deal with unlawful downloading of video and audio content. We commend the Productivity Commission on its very sensible recommendation to dump geoblocking."

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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