Australia’s current copyright system has failed to keep pace with the digital economy and changing the allowances around copyright exclusions would drive economic growth and innovation, according to a report from Deloitte Access Economics.

Reworking copyright laws would help grow the country’s digital economy by $60 billion in two years according to the report authors.

Copyright in the Digital Age, was commissioned by Google and claims that a more flexible approach to copyright exceptions, such as fair use, would provide more legal certainty for a range of digital activities and innovations – from text and data mining to machine learning and cloud computing – to take place in Australia and help grow the country’s digital economy to $139 billion by 2020 (from a current $79 billion).

According to report co-author, Deloitte Access Economics partner John O’Mahony, “The system as it stands doesn’t support innovation as much as it could, and without change, Australia will find it harder achieve the full productivity dividend of the digital age without a more flexible approach to copyright exceptions.”

More flexibility required

Australian copyright law currently specifies a number of ‘fair dealing’ exceptions when use of copyright material are permissible. This can be made more flexible by adding exceptions or shifting to a principles-based ‘fair use’ system, which allows use provided it is socially beneficial, transforms the work and does not adversely affect the market for the original material.

Report contributor and Deloitte Access Economics senior advisor Dr Ric Simes said that adopting a fair use system would bring Australia into line leading innovator nations.

“The United States, Israel, South Korea and Singapore are leaders when it comes to digital innovation, and therefore major beneficiaries. The United Kingdom and Canada have also recently increased flexibility in their copyright exceptions, and copyright is currently being reviewed in New Zealand,” he said.

The report acknowledges concerns of a fair use system regarding impacts on the incomes of copyright holders, however finds that alongside protections built into the fair use principles, there are greater opportunities for rights holders to themselves rely on fair use as part of remix and other transformative works. Potential uncertainty during transition can be minimised based on international experience and the right policy guidance.

“With technological change becoming ever more rapid, the flexibility a principles-based fair use system offers has become increasingly important, because it avoids the need to pile specific exception on specific exception and allows more timely adaptation to market realities,” said copyright expert Henry Ergas, who contributed to the report.

The Deloitte Access Economics report provides input into the Federal Government’s commitment to publicly consult in the first half of 2018 on the implementation of a fair use exception as part of its response the recommendations of the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Intellectual Property Arrangements.

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