In all the rhetoric about the ‘copyright wars’, it is easy to lose sight of the things people agree about. Taking the role of copyright in the education sector as an example, most people don’t dispute that:
- Education is key to Australia’s cultural and economic future
- Return on investment in delivery mechanisms cannot be realised without content
- Australian content contributes both to a sense of national identity and to the Australian economy
- The education sector takes copyright compliance seriously
The Australian copyright legislation includes ‘statutory licences’ that allow the education sector to use copyright content in ways that would otherwise require a copyright clearance. To rely on the statutory licences, the education sector must undertake to ensure that ‘equitable remuneration’ is paid to content creators, through rights management organisations. These organisations (Copyright Agency and Screenrights) are appointed and overseen by the Australian government.
The statutory licences and other provisions of the copyright law affecting the education sector are the subject of debate, and currently under review by the Australian Law Reform Commission.
There are, however, some misconceptions and misunderstandings that can get in the way of grasping the real issues. These include:
- That copyright is an impediment to use of content for education.
- That the use of content outside the statutory licences (e.g. under a Creative Commons licence or direct arrangement with the content creator) results in payments to the rights management organisations.
- That every single copy made under a statutory licence results in payment to the rights management organisation.
- Any impediment to use of content arises from the education sector’s reluctance to make fair payment for its use of copied content. The statutory licences provide a guaranteed entitlement to use the content. The statutory licence for text and images is technology-neutral: it allows copying and communication using any technology.
- Rights management organisations follow detailed protocols, agreed with the education sector, to exclude from payment any content used outside the statutory licences.
- Different copies and communications have different values and in some cases no value. In general, the value of a copy or communication is related to the level of its consumption. A copy sitting on a learning management system that nobody looks at is different to a copy that 300 students look at.
Matters currently being debated include:
- How to properly value the educational use of copied content.
- The relative value of copied content to purchased content.
- The extent to which creators of copied content deserve to be paid.
- Whether copied content is a resource that should be budgeted for, like other resources and services.
Key policy issues include:
- Whether the public education sector should be funded to make fair payment for copied content.
- Whether the best educational resources are produced by the private sector or by direct government funding.
- How best to support the creation of new Australian content.