Is CHOICE's "fair use" campaign fair?

CHOICE is after a change to Australian copyright law to bring more “fair use” provisions into play. It’s a laudable enough aim, although some of its rhetoric is a little bit muddled.
I’ve written before about the somewhat muddled and often mis-understood nature of Australian copyright law over at Lifehacker. Indeed, I think I’ve referenced that article more than any other this year, because it’s a hot topic, and one that CHOICE is seeking to gather public support with a pledge signup that states

“Do you know it is illegal to copy a song to your tablet and your smartphone? Or to copy a digital movie to any device you may own, at all?”

They’re right… and not entirely correct at the same time. I get what they’re trying to do, and honestly, as a creator of written content and a consumer of all types of content, I agree with the core message; Australian copyright law is a mess that’s not fairly weighed or for that matter up to date with actual technological use.
For whatever it’s worth I’m determined to get my first novel out at some point this year, and I do want people to pay for a copy… but once you’ve got that copy, I’ve no interest in restricting where you read it, even though the services that I’ll be using may well restrict its absolute portability as long as you’ve paid for it. I’ve got no real time for the “I should be allowed to sample it” crowd, because that’s not your decision to make (and all too often I find it’s an “I’m cheap but this is a nice smokescreen” excuse), but if you pay for it… I reckon you pay for it.
The reality that plenty of people do indeed rip DVDs for ease of use (or protection from sticky fingered infants) is just that — a reality. I don’t (and won’t) condone people doing that and then selling the discs themselves, because at that point you clearly and ethically sell your right to the content. But while you own it, I can’t see why you can’t, indeed, own it for your own use. Anything else is window dressing for the fact that all you’re doing is selecting a more convenient way to view that content.
So what’s wrong with CHOICE’s statements? Well, leaving aside any works that may be under licences like creative commons, there’s the issue that a “digital movie” may comprise, for example, an iTunes movie, or a Google Play one. They’re subject to the T&Cs that you sign up for with the service, and do allow for exactly the kind of portability that Choice says you don’t have. With a DVD or a Blu-Ray — and that’s what they mean, even if they’re using too-broad language — you don’t have the same rights. Again, I can’t see the “damage” done with format shifting a title that I’ve genuinely purchased, especially as the weird provisions of Australian copyright law mean that I can do that with some content, but not all of it.
Source: CHOICE
Image: Paula Tadeo

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