The proposed changes to copyright law announced this month by Philip Ruddock are a lost opportunity to catapult us into the digital age, according to Internet Industry Association (IIA) CEO Peter Coroneos.
The proposed changes include allowing individuals to record a television program but only allowing a single viewing before it must be deleted. The proposed laws also make it illegal to lend recorded programs to friends or burn a collection (or library) of favourite programs on DVD or CD to keep.
The IIA intends to make a submission once it sees the draft legislation in full.
"It is just a series of proposals at the moment but our view is that the digital age is here, and it's real. Consumers are voting with their feet and the law is already behind the technology. We believe if the law does not reflect the reasonable expectations of the citizens, then the law will be brought into disrepute," Coroneos said.
In proposing changes to the copyright laws, Ruddock stated that he wanted to bring out-dated laws up to speed with technology and not treat everyday citizens like pirates.
We agree that changes are needed, but we don't think these reforms do that. The single use of a TV or radio program for instance, will be impossible to enforce and will leave the consumers no better off than they are now - in breach of an unenforced law," Coroneos said.
"The government's fear is that people are going to build up personal libraries - but people have done so already, so if the policy intent was to legitimise what most people already do, then it fails."
Coroneos disagrees with the assumption that technologies such as file sharing cause harm to copyright holders.
"In the US there is evidence that file sharing has resulted in an increase in CD sales and legal music downloads, because there are people that want to listen to something before they decide to buy it," he said.
The Free Trade Agreement with America was meant to harmonise our laws with their laws, Coroneos said. "But in practice we seem to have inherited a lot of their restrictions but not a lot of the liberty that their laws provide."
"The Government has expressly avoided, for instance, a new US style fair use exemption, opting instead for a flexible fair dealing exemption which is more limited for the consumer," he said.
"One of the arguments around adopting a fair use exemption is that in America you have a lot more innovation. The iPod for instance could never have been developed in Australia because it would have been illegal. So if you are trying to embrace the digital age, you've got to give people the opportunity to fairly use content."
Although the concept of fair is often in the eye of the beholder, Coroneos feels that by any analysis these reforms are still very much skewed in favour of the traditional rights holder's interest.
"I think the internet industry was looking for a lot more courage from the government to really truly embrace the digital age. What we've seen so far has fallen short," he said.
Coroneos thinks the industry also has a lot of work to do in offering appealing products to consumers and that legal music downloads are still more expensive than consumers expect.
"The compelling thing about the internet is the low cost of distribution, and content providers are yet to embrace that, from a whole lot of standpoints. We are in a transition space. We are in a time where old industries have not yet re-engineered themselves to become new industries," he said.
"The market is way ahead of the producers in the digital entertainment space so the producers are trying to play catch up but in the meantime they are using whatever legal processes they can to slow the market down until they can catch up. That's the bigger picture here."
CEO of Copyright Agency Limited, Michael Fraser, has a different take, believing that it is the stronger copyright laws in the US and UK that encourage and foster digital publishing and production.
"In the UK and US, rights holders are granted more control over their works in the digital environment and this in turn encourages further investment in digital publishing," he said. "Too many exceptions to the copyright laws could have the potential to hamper the development of these industries, particularly Australia's educational publishing industry, leading to Australia relying on works from overseas jurisdictions where the incentives to create exist."
Fraser said the proposals are more than fair to users and attempt to address the increasing issues of infringement and piracy.
"But CAL believes any changes should work to create an environment that encourages the further development of Australian markets in which creative works can develop and flourish"