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Wikipedia is written by volunteers all around the world, including thousands of dedicated Australians. However, without the Fair Use provision allowed by United States law, important Australian content – such as the ABC logo, or the album cover and audio-sample from the classic song by "Men At Work" Land Down Under – could not be included in their articles on Wikipedia. That is, if Wikipedia were hosted in Australia, none of this Fair Use material could be shown.

Fair Use is a US legal principle which allows the use of copyrighted material without the copyright owner’s permission - as long as that use is fair, in light of four factors. We believe that using these copyrighted material on Wikipedia is beneficial, educational, transformative, and importantly, not harmful to the copyright owner’s commercial rights.

Restrictive permissions

2016 Australian Productivity Commission report - recommending Fair Use

Australia’s current Fair Dealing law only permits the use of copyrighted material without permission for certain purposes specifically mentioned in the Copyright Act (which include research, study, criticism, review, parody, satire, or reporting the news). This means the law will always be behind current needs and practice.

For example, it took until 2006 for the government to legalise taping TV shows on a home VCR. This was over two decades after VCRs became commonplace in Australian homes, making millions of Australians unwitting, long-term copyright infringers.

Today, Australia’s “Fair Dealing” system of copyright continues to exclude everyday uses. Some things that you probably consider “fair” that are currently technically not allowed in Australia without permission include:

  • Forwarding an email
  • Sharing photos you didn’t take on social media
  • Reposting or creating memes or mashups
  • Backing-up your DVDs
  • Photographing a billboard or mural

We should not have to wait two decades for each new technology to become legal. A Fair Use system would fix this problem.

Costs to education

The lack of a Fair Use doctrine in Australia's copyright system also means that Australian schools must pay a royalty fee to use freely accessible websites such as Google Maps in classrooms. The Australian Productivity Commission estimated the use of freely available internet resources and "orphan works" costs Australian taxpayers up to 18 million dollars per year. Yes, in a time of decreasing funding for education, Australian schools really do pay to use the online content that you use at home for free.

User rights

In 2016 the Productivity Commission recommended that Australia adopt a Fair Use exception. It concluded Fair Use would provide much needed recognition of user rights in our copyright law. In fact, it endorsed the 2014 recommendation to introduce Fair Use from the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). The ALRC in turn had followed the recommendations of previous government reports which found Fair Use was an important reform that was needed to add flexibility in order to balance the more onerous copyright enforcement adopted under the Australia-USA free trade agreement.

Learn more about these reports from the Wikipedia article on the History of fair use recommendations in Australia.


Video Australian copyright is broken

For details on each of these myths - go to Faircopyright.org.au

Myth: The current system is working well
Fact: In Australia, most of us break the law every day

Myth: Fair Use will harm Australian artists
Fact: In countries that have Fair Use, artists rely on it every day

Myth: Fair Use will stop royalty payments and licences
Fact: Healthy licensing and royalty systems coexist with Fair Use

Myth: Only large tech companies want Fair Use
Fact: Schools, universities, TAFES, libraries, archives, museums, galleries, consumers, technology companies and Australian startups are all asking for Fair Use

Myth: Fair Use is just ‘too uncertain’
Fact: Applying Fair Use is no more difficult than making other everyday decisions about law

Myth: Fair Use lets others use your work however they want
Fact: Fair Use only allows uses that are fair

If you think Australia should introduce a Fair Use exception into the Copyright Act

Take action

For more information, Wikipedia has an article about the History of Fair Use proposals in Australia, and an internal policy on the use of non-free media files within its articles.
For media enquiries please contact the Australian Digital Alliance or Electronic Frontiers Australia