Time to Cut CAL

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is holding hearings on copyright law reform today. Among the worst ideas put before it is a submission from the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), which argues things like:

  • there shouldn’t be a satire exemption (you can almost hear them saying “there’s nothing funny about copyright infringement, Senator”)
  • educational institutions shouldn’t even be able to copy 1% of a copyrighted work
  • copyright owners should be able to prevent digitisation of their own works (ie. let’s kill Google Books)

But the worst thing about CAL’s submission is it’s got my name on it. Implicitly, anyway. Paragraph 1.2 states “we represent 9129 primary creators” – one of which is me. The reason I’m a CAL member is that the Copyright Act gives CAL a monopoly to collect copyright usage fees, so that when one of my articles goes into a university course pack, I end up with a few cents.

Yet somehow CAL has parlayed this monopoly into the ability to argue for outrageous protections for copyright holders. If you polled CAL’s membership, I can’t imagine that a majority would think it was a good idea to allow humorless greysuits to sue satirists for breach of copyright. But that’s effectively what they’re telling the Senate.

There’s a simple solution to this. We should change the legislation so as to separate CAL’s money-collection role from its lobbying role. Then Australia’s authors would be able to still get their copying royalties, without being associated with a body that wants to shut down Google Books.

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11 Responses to Time to Cut CAL

  1. Ben says:

    “Harmonisation” – such a beautiful word. A marvellous cover for the wholescale adoption of another countries overly restrictive intellectual property laws.

  2. As another CAL’s primary creators, count me in on your objections.

  3. John Konop says:

    Economists Are Destroying America

    Economists, politicians, and executives from both parties have promised American families that “free” trade policies like NAFTA, CAFTA, and WTO/CHINA would accomplish three things:

    • Increase wages
    • Create trade surpluses (for the US)
    • Reduce illegal immigration

    Well, their trade policies have been in effect for about 15 years. Let’s review the results:

    • Declining real wages for 80% of working Americans (while healthcare, education, and childcare costs skyrocket)
    • A record-high 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance (due in part to declining wages and benefits)
    • Illegal immigration out of control
    • Soaring trade deficits, much with countries that use slave and child labor
    • Personal and national debt both out-of-control
    • Global environments threatened by lax trade deal enforcement

    Economists Keep Advocating Policies That Aren’t Working

    Upon seeing incontrovertible evidence of these negative trade agreement results, economists continue with Pollyannish blather. Some say, “Cheer up! GDP is up and the stock market’s doing fine.” Others say, “Be patient. Stay the course. Free trade will raise all ships.”

    Even those economists who acknowledge problems with trade agreements offer us only half-measures—adjusting exchange rates, improving safety nets, and providing better job retraining. None of these will close the wage gap in America—and economists know it.

    Why Aren’t American Economists Shouting From Street Corners?

    America needs trade deals that support American families and businesses in terms of wage, environmental, and intellectual property abuses. Why aren’t economists demanding renegotiation of our trade deals? There are three primary reasons:

    • Economists are too beholden to corporations and special interests that provide them with research grants.
    • Economists believe—but refuse to admit—that sacrificing the American middle class is necessary and appropriate to generate gains in third world economies.
    • Economists refuse to admit they make mistakes.

    Economic Ambulance Chasers

    Now more than ever, Americans need their economists to speak truth and stand up to their big business clients. Instead, economists sound like lawyers caught chasing ambulances: they claim they’re “doing it for our benefit”.

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Hmm, thanks John. Anyone else have any views on copyright?

  5. Kevin Cox says:

    A friend is setting up a system http://art.authenticated.to whose aim is to give artists an ongoing royalty when their art is sold. The idea is for the artist to get part of the value when others use it and get value from it. This is done by creating a system so that there is a process that makes it worthwhile for the buyer and the seller to record their sale (so that it makes it easier in the future to authenticate the work). As part of that process the agreement is that the artist will get their residual.

    Perhaps we can use the same principle with other copyright works and tailor the systems depending on the type of works. Perhaps people who own copyright can think of systems that will enable them to share in the ongoing income from their works a little more directly. The challenge is to build the payments processes into the other areas where money changes hands. For example, in publications that earn money from advertising perhaps a small portion of the advertising revenue could go to the authors of copyright works or where photocopying is done part of the charges for photocopying is passed on to authors. It does not seem sensible to try to charge for ideas unless someone is making something out of them because most people with ideas want to get them out there – but to get something when someone uses the ideas to generate income.

  6. Andrew Leigh says:

    Kevin, I can see the rationale for this (at the time of first sale, there is often a high degree of uncertainty over a work’s true value), but I would’ve thought that a more sensible approach would have been law reform that passed back a portion of the CGT to the artist. I’m not sure that an additional capital gains tax on art – effectively your friend’s proposal – is really in the interests of artists.

  7. Michael Moriarty says:


    I have on occasions quoted (and for the greater part credited) some of the wring off the West Wing. My question is at what point do you cross a line into breaching copy write. Can we free quote some ones’ writings with out having to pay a royalty.

  8. Another point I’d like to take up with this is the lobbying activities of organizations with large memberships, but whose membership may well be completely unrelated to the lobbying activities.

    For instance, consider the reputation for social conservative activism of the shop assistant’s union. Or take the bloody road service organizations. I’m a member because I’d like assistance if and when my car breaks down. However, the RACV puts considerable efforts in to lobbying for more and bigger roads to be built – a policy that I do not support and wish the RACV would stop endorsing. However, their organization seems to have an effective monopoly on road service in Victoria, so I have little choice but to support their political lobbying.

  9. Kevin Cox says:

    Andrew it is all very well passing a CGT law but think of the compliance costs and the fact that it is likely to be widely ignored. The proposal suggested gives the buyers and sellers something of value – they can prove the authenticity of a work and that is worth something. The result is not a CGT but more like a GST.
    The system as proposed does not require laws and legislation, that is “self policing”, self funding, costs little and is voluntary. That is, the artist decides whether to participate or not. The ongoing compliance can be covered by existing contract law on buyers and sellers and besides there is a commercial advantage to the buyers and sellers because of the authenticity certificate.

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