Copyright Agency sues NSW Government

Copyright Agency’s Adam Suckling

The Copyright Agency says it has been ‘pushed to the last resort’ and is suing the NSW Government over the non-payment of fees for copyrighted material being shared within and between state government agencies.

The Agency is the industry body representing the copyright and licensing interests of thousands of Australian authors, publishers, photographers, and other content creators. It says it has been forced to take the Government to the Copyright Tribunal for refusal to pay a fair rate for using copyright material for the last five years.

“The NSW Government is the only government in Australia refusing to pay a fair rate for using the copyright material of our members,” said Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling.

“For five years we have attempted to get the NSW Government to recognise the value in tens of millions of pages of author, publisher, researcher, photographer, cartoonist and journalist content.

“In this time, thousands of NSW executives and public servants have copied up to 200 million pages of copyright material without the appropriate approval or recompense for Australian creators.”

It is not the first time the agency has taken the NSW to court to assert its rights. In 2008 it won a case in which the government claimed it owned the copyright to surveyor’s plans.

The suit says that the Government owes the agency $7.5 million in unpaid fees, covering the five years since it last paid any money for the use of copyrighted material.

NSW has the largest public sector in Australia, with 469,000 employees – twice as many as the Australian Public Service.

“Whether it’s health, engineering or science journals, media articles, safety handbooks or illustrations, our members’ material is a vital source of intelligence that benefits portfolios and informs decisions across government,” said Mr Suckling.

“We’re proud that this material provides an important input into serving the people of NSW – but we believe that our members should receive fair payment for use of this work.

“It is an accepted standard that governments pay a market rate to cover the use and sharing of copyright material and the use of such material is covered by the Copyright Agency licence.

“This refusal to pay a fair rate hurts Australian writers, journalists, cartoonists, photographers, publishers and visual artists, and harms their ability to invest, innovate and develop more, new Australian content.

“There is a simple win-win solution available, which is for NSW to come to a commercial agreement in line with the Commonwealth and all other state and territory governments.

“The unnecessary and undesirable alternative is for the Copyright Agency to represent its members rights in an expensive legal action which will waste a huge amount of public resources.

“The last such dispute between the NSW Government and the Copyright Agency took ten years to conclude – in the Copyright Agency’s favour – and cost millions of dollars.”

The issue of payment for copyrighted material has become a sore point in recent years, with increasing debate over ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material. Much of the content which the Copyright Agency is complaining about being shared is trivial – things like photocopying a magazine article and sharing it with a colleague.

Under ‘fair use’, such things are legal and attract no fees. Under Australia’s stringent copyright laws, they must be paid for.

The Productivity Commission has argued that Australia’s copyright laws need changing, and that they criminalise everyday behaviour. The Copyright Agency has set up a fighting fund to resist any changes to the law.

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