Australia may permit 'personal' music copying

A parliamentary committee has recommended Australia follow the Canadian model, which permits the copying of purchased music for personal use

Music business analyst Phil Tripp has lauded the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties' recommendations on the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the US, which support the copying of purchased music for personal use.

Tripp previously submitted a proposal to music industry associations asking to support a change to the Copyright Act that would give consumers the legal chance to copy music for their personal use. Part of the proposed changes include "a levy that will be implemented on recordable media and a separate one on digital music players to provide a pool of income that would be distributed back to music creators in a fair and equitable manner by an agreed rights society."

Tripp admitted, however, that the suggestion on imposing a levy on blank media needed to be "finessed" for it to apply in Australia and that it doesn't necessarily have to follow the Canadian format.

The US 'Fair Use' doctrine or Australia's 'Fair dealing' allows for exceptions on when copyrighted material may be used without payment of a royalty. The application of fair use in the United States provides for several unique copyright doctrines, including space shifting.

Space shifting is when digital content is recorded onto a different device than that for which it was originally assigned (for instance, purchasing a CD and copying it into an MP3 player). Current Australian legislation makes these activities illegal.

The committee recommended that "the changes being made in respect of the Copyright Act 1968 replace the Australian doctrine of fair dealing for a doctrine that resembles the United States' open-ended defence of fair use, to counter the effects of the extension of copyright protection and to correct the legal anomaly of time-shifting and space-shifting that is currently absent."

Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) chief executive officer Stephen Peach previously said that they do not support changing the Copyright Act and imposing a levy on blank media. Peach also mentioned before that there are "better and more sophisticated ways to ensure people are compensated."

Tripp believes that there is another reason behind the major music companies' opposition to the changes.

"The reason why the record companies are so vehemently opposed to private copying freedom is because they make the most money in compilations and that's where they pay the artists the least money or sometimes the artist even gets nothing for being included in the compilations," Tripp said. He added that they do not want customers to start making their own compilations since the companies will lose money on compilation CDs.

Peach was not available to make a comment on the issue.

Last week, the Australian Consumer's Association released their view on the issue. "It is absolutely time for Australian consumers to have fair use rights to privately copy material they have legally acquired," said Charles Britton, ACA senior policy officer for IT and communications.

Britton added that the suggestions for a levy on blank recording media will be at odds with the law if there is no right to fair use. "Without a fully protected right of private copying, copyright holders will be able to double dip -- they will pick up the levy but still lock material away with contract or technology."

"Any proposal must also meet some key practical challenges. Any levy must not catch media used for non-infringing purposes -- such as CDs for digital photos, and DVDs for computer data backup and video recording. It must not create problems at the checkout and must not add significantly to prices," Britton concluded.

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