Productivity Commission intellectual property inquiry

The Australian Government has asked the Productivity Commission to undertake a 12 month public inquiry into Australia’s intellectual property system.

Digital Rights Watch strongly supports the development of evidence based intellectual property law. In recent years, the strength of intellectual property regimes worldwide has been steadily ratcheted up through international policy laundering and a complex web of interlocking trade agreements. The result is that Australia is now locked into a set of international standards for intellectual property protection that are not in our national interest, and which have not been optimally implemented.

Australia’s rigid intellectual protection regime lacks the flexibility and balance necessary for an efficient system. This has a number of consequences:

  • Consumers face higher prices and less choice as competition in the market is decreased;
  • Access and creative reuse of content is impeded by far reaching protection and inadequate exceptions, even for materials where no substantial market exists;
  • Australia lags behind the systems of other countries that provide a better base for innovation; and
  • Consumers find copyright “out of touch” and lose respect for intellectual property law.

We support the Productivity Commission’s draft recommendations to do what is possible, within the context of Australia’s international obligations, to make our intellectual property laws fit for purpose in the digital age. We strongly support the Commission’s focus on user rights, whose diverse interests are often not well represented in intellectual property negotiations and policy development. We also appreciate the Commission’s exploration of how the current intellectual property settings impact differently upon different types of rights holders, acknowledging that the experience and needs of small, amateur, and independent creators are very different to that of a large corporate rights holder. A focus on user rights and broader economic benefits will go some way to improving the balance that is needed to create an effective and efficient intellectual property system.

Over the longer term, we suggest that Australia must do more to ensure that it has the sovereignty to determine the boundaries of intellectual property protection that are appropriate to our national context and further our national interest. This, we suggest, requires a fundamental rethinking of the way that Australia approaches international negotiations, and the beginnings of a long road to disentangle intellectual property obligations from trade agreements. A more democratic and transparent approach to these negotiations is critical, given the significant effects of the outcomes on so many Australians.

We offer the following recommendations:

  1. Fair use should be introduced immediately
  2. No new copyright enforcement mechanisms should be introduced unless and until the market is being effectively served
  3. Safe Harbours should be extended
  4. Website blocking laws should be scrapped
  5. Circumventing geoblocks is legal and helps improve competition and consumer outcomes
  6. User rights in IP should not be excludable by contract
  7. The IP exemption should be removed from competition law
  8. Intellectual property policy should be evidence based and excluded from international trade negotiations

Read our full submission to the inquiry here.

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