‘Freely available’ material

13.22 More contentiously, some have submitted that schools and universities should be able to use, without payment, some material that is otherwise ‘free’—uses such as copying material on the internet and copying content broadcast on free-to-air television.

13.23 The Australian education sector has recommended that such material should be removed from the scope of the statutory licensing scheme. The education sector has recommended the introduction of a new exception allowing educational institutions to copy and communicate free and publicly available material on the internet for non-commercial educational purposes.[19]

13.24 In its submission to this Inquiry, the Schools further elaborated on why they should not pay for content that is freely available online. Paying for this content was said to threaten the Government’s digital economy goals, including ‘the success of the Government’s investments in digital education’. It ‘potentially adds millions of dollars to education budgets each year’, and furthermore, ‘Australia is the only place in the world where schools are legislatively required to pay for printing a page from a website’.[20]

13.25 Likewise, Universities Australia submitted that freely available internet material is copied in homes and businesses throughout Australia and ‘no one is seeking to be paid for it’:

We are particularly concerned that at the very time that a wide range of high quality audio-visual resources are being made freely available—such as content on YouTube EDU and the Open University on iTunesU—Screenrights is proposing to seek extension of the Part VA licence that may result in content of this kind becoming remunerable in Australia. [21]

13.26 Universities Australia also submitted that educational institutions should not have to pay to use free-to-air broadcasts.

No one but the education sector is paying to time-shift this content. The payments extracted from the education sector for educational use of this freely available content cannot in an any way be said to be necessary to provide an incentive for the continued creation of the content.[22]

13.27 Screenrights submitted that the call by the education sector wrongly assumes that ‘free’ material on the internet is not valued by the copyright owner.

The proposal presumes that the content is given away by being made available online without a direct payment. This is completely incorrect. Copyright owners like Screenrights’ professional filmmaker members make material available online for very clear commercial reasons. They may choose to make it available for a fee, such as with commercial video on demand services or they may choose to license a website to stream the content for a period of time without charging the consumer directly (such as ABC iView). In the latter case, the consumer still pays for the content, either by watching associated advertising, or through brand attachment to the website and there are clear cross promotional benefits to other platforms where the content is available for a fee, such as via DVD or Blu-ray discs.[23]

13.28 Material ‘freely’ available on the internet, Screenrights said, ‘is very like material broadcast ‘freely’ on television’:

When an educational institution copies a free to air broadcast, it is required to compensate the copyright owners via the Part VA scheme that Screenrights administers. Fundamentally, Screenrights can see no difference with content made available online for free. There may very well be a debate about the value of the content and the price of the compensation, but the principle is the same.[24]

13.29 It is important to distinguish between different types of material on the internet which may be accessed without paying a fee. Some of this content may be provided without any expectation that rights holders will collect fees from educational institutions and governments for the use of the material. At other times, rights holders may only wish to provide their content under limited circumstances.

13.30 Of course, a film shown with advertisements on free-to-air television is not really ‘free’. Advertising is also not the only way of selling content without explicitly charging for its use: giving a customer access to a free book, for example, so that the customer enters a content ‘ecosystem’ in which he or she is more likely to buy other books, or indeed films, television shows and other material, is not necessarily the same as giving the book away for free.

13.31 The fair use exception proposed in Chapter 4, and the alternative fair dealing for education exception proposed in this chapter, may capture some uses of this content by educational institutions. As discussed below, these exceptions require consideration of the likely harm a particular free use might have on a market. The exceptions are flexible and principle-based, and therefore better equipped to distinguish between types of ‘freely available’ material than more prescriptive exceptions.

[19] D Browne, ‘Educational Use and the Internet – Does Australian Copyright Law Work in the Web Environment?’ (2009) 6(2) SCRIPT-ed 450, 461.

[20] Copyright Advisory Group—Schools, Submission 231.

[21] Universities Australia, Submission 246. See also Society of University Lawyers, Submission 158.

[22] Universities Australia, Submission 246.

[23] Screenrights, Submission 215.

[24] Ibid.