Digital copyright costs lands Universities Australia before tribunal

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Digital copyright costs lands Universities Australia before tribunal

Copyright Agency says digital copies undermine licence value.

The peak body representing 39 Australian universities has been referred to the Copyright Tribunal over claims the licensing agreement for distributing content isn’t fair in the age of digital reproductions.

The Copyright Agency, which was in the midst of hammering out a new agreement with Universities Australia in the wake of amendments to the Copyright Act, has lodged the action following a breakdown in negotiations.

Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling said in a letter to members that under the current agreement, universities pay $32.5 million for over 10 million physical and digital pages of copyright material for the sector’s 1.4 million students, 60,000 academics and 70,000 professional staff.

That works out to 0.11 percent of universities’ combined expenditure in 2016 of $28.6 billion, or about 9 cents per domestic student per day.

However, Suckling argues the real value of the licence has been decreasing due to the rapid growth in student numbers, inflation, and a “huge increase” in the number of platforms on which material can be copied or shared.

“The explosion of digital content has radically changed the way universities provide educational content to students,” Suckling said.

“The educational statutory licence, which Copyright Agency administers, provides access to an enormous amount of material, including material that is printed, digitally stored and communicated to students across multiple digital platforms.”

He said the tribunal is being brought in to assess whether the value of the licences and methods of monitoring how much material is being accessed under them is appropriate.

“There are much better ways of capturing usage than the current approach – such as via the provision of full digital records – that would ensure accurate payments to copyright creators, including academics in Australian universities,” Suckling said.

The Copyright Agency also wants the tribunal to set an interim rate for the use of licensed material until a new agreement is reached.

Suckling said the rate is purely for the Tribunal to decide, it just wants to make sure its members continue to receive payment during the are paid and can continue to produce quality material.

“Licence fees support the Australian educational publishing industry to continue to produce high-quality educational material. Not paying a fair rate undermines the ability of publishers, authors and artists to invest, innovate and develop more Australian content.”

Update 10:30am 13/11/18

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson has hit back at the comments from the Copyright Agency, telling iTnews universities pay a “fair price” for content and will continue to do so.

“Universities pay hundreds of millions of dollars directly each year to publishers and copyright owners and that amount continues to grow,” Jackson said.

“Content creators and copyright owners can rest assured universities will continue to pay for the use of their content.”

Jackson added that Universities Australia has been negotiating with the Copyright Agency in good faith, but the agency’s proposal is “is akin to saying that universities should pay twice for the content they are using”.

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