The Productivity Commission’s recommendations to reform Australia’s copyright system to promote and enable creativity and innovation are desperately needed if we want to be a world leader in innovation, QUT Intellectual Property and Innovation Law Professor Matthew Rimmer says.
Professor Rimmer welcomed the Commission’s report on intellectual property reform in respect of copyright, competition, open access, geo-blocking and patent law, but warned it would require "steely resolve" to implement.
“This report shows Australia needs to simplify, modernise and reform its IP laws which are at present stymieing the creativity and competition needed to lead on the world stage," he said.
“It’s an independent and systematic study that has assessed the effectiveness, efficiency, adaptability and accountability of Australia’s IP laws.
“The Commission’s report gives us the empirical evidence to inform IP policy-making rather than rely on dogma and ideology.”
Professor Rimmer said, however, past reform efforts had more often than not succumbed to misinformation and scare campaigns.
“The Productivity Commission is well aware of this and has told the Government ‘steely resolve will be needed to pursue better balanced IP arrangements’.
“Given the Prime Ministers’ commitment to innovation policy, I hope the Government will show real steel in respect of reform.”
He said the Commission had recommended a broad and flexible defence of "fair use" under copyright law for Australia instead of the current inflexible defence of "fair dealing".
“At present, lengthy copyright protection has been skewed too far in favour of copyright owners,” Professor Rimmer said.
“To remedy this, the Commission has recommended that liability be limited for the use of orphan works.
“Australia’s copyright laws put it at a competitive disadvantage compared to the US which enjoys a defence of fair use.
“A fair use defence in Australia would help boost creativity and innovation while promoting access to knowledge, news reporting and scientific inquiry.”
Professor Rimmer said Australia’s parallel importation restrictions had been a poor measure to protect local culture and cost consumers.
“The Commission’s view is that removal of Australia’s parallel importation restrictions would put downward pressure on prices for a significant number of books.
“This would lead to a reduction in retail book prices to the benefit of consumers and promote efficiency in the Australian publishing sector.
“An analysis in the report’s appendix suggests the number of books that could be sourced more cheaply overseas could be substantial, leading to an annual savings of around $25 million for Australian consumers.
“At the moment, multi-national publishers, not local authors, have been the main beneficiaries of the parallel import regime, which is an anachronism in the digital age.
“These restrictions are easily circumvented with a few clicks on a smartphone or PC.
“In a similar vein, the Commission has made some useful recommendations in respect of clarifying that Australians can circumvent geo-blocking technology.
“It has also recommended the Government and the ACCC should strengthen the governance and transparency of copyright collecting societies and enable the ACCC to have greater IP oversight.”
The recommendation that Australian governments should implement an open-access policy for publicly funded research was also welcome.
“The policy should provide free and open access arrangement for all government or university-funded research within 12 months of publication.”
Professor Rimmer said the Commission's recommendation to raise patent quality by increasing the degree of invention required to receive a patent was sound.
“Australia’s patent system grants exclusivity too readily, allowing a proliferation of low-quality patents.
“Furthermore the Commission has called for a reconfiguration of the costly patent extensions for pharmaceutical products.”
He said the report highlighted the trade imbalance in respect of IP, noting "Australia is overwhelmingly a net importer of IP and the gap between IP imports and exports is growing rapidly".
“The Commission noted this trade imbalance meant that ‘costs to consumers and follow-on innovators from higher prices and restricted availability were not offset by increases in Australian producer profits’.
“Its recommendation that the Government focus on ‘reducing international IP transaction costs for parties using IP rights in multiple jurisdictions and encouraging more balanced policy arrangement for patents and copyright’ would be pertinent to trade discussions with India and Indonesia in 2017 and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.”
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