Copyright is an unregistered property right which protects the form or way an idea or information is expressed, and is founded on a person's creative skill and labour. Copyright material generally includes items such as books, artwork, software, film and sound recordings.

Copyright provides exclusive economic rights which allow the copyright owner to do certain acts with their copyright material, such as copying, publishing, communicating (e.g. broadcasting, making available online) and publicly performing the work. Copyright also provides non-economic rights, known as moral rights, which are designed to protect the creative integrity of copyright creators. In Australia, there are no formalities (such as registration) to obtaining copyright protection as it is granted automatically from the time an original work is created.

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications is responsible for managing the Copyright Act 1968. The Department develops Australian copyright policy and represents Australia’s interests in relation to international copyright issues.

The value of copyright to Australia

A number of recent studies have looked into the value of copyright industries to the Australian economy. A study by PwC looked at the economic contribution of Australia’s copyright industries across the period 2006-2018 using an internationally comparable methodology developed by WIPO. The research found that Australian industries relying on copyright protection in 2018 (including Press & Literature and Radio & Television) contributed $124.1 billion to the Australian economy, equivalent to 6.8 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product (Figure C1). 1 The copyright industries also accounted for 8.3 per cent of total employment in Australia and generated $4.8 billion in exports.

Figure C1. Economic contribution of Australia’s copyright industries

* ’Other’ includes partial, non-dedicated support, and interdependent industries linked to copyright.

Some examples of industries underpinned by copyright include the screen industry and the publishing industry. The screen industry in Australia contributes $5.34 billion in direct industry value-add to the economy, and it employs 30 500 people.2 The Australian publishing industry employs over 4,300 people and generates over $1.4 billion revenue.3

The annual reports of Australia’s two declared collecting societies, which collect and distribute payments for use of their members’ copyright materials, provide further insight to the value of copyright in the Australian economy. In the 2019–20 financial year:

  • Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) distributed $114 million in revenue to more than 10 000 rightsholders including writers, artists, publishers and agents.4
  • Screenrights, distributed $46.5 million to over 4 700 members, including producers, directors, broadcasters and agents in the audiovisual sector.5
  • Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS), together known as APRA AMCOS, distributed $407.3 million to over 108 000 members, including musicians, composers, songwriters and publishers in the music industry.6

The value of copyright goes beyond the economic. Copyright facilitates a thriving arts sector, which builds a strong sense of collective identity and plays a role in social change. The National Arts Participation Survey run by the Australia Council for the Arts provides an insight into Australia’s deep engagement with the arts in 2019.7 For example, 92 per cent of Australians report listening to recorded music.8 The portion of Australians who read for pleasure (72 per cent) has increased by 17 percentage points since 2016. 84 per cent of the population aged 15 years and over acknowledge significant positive impacts of arts and creativity.9 These positive impacts are noted on child development; our sense of wellbeing and happiness; our ability to express ourselves; and on shaping and expressing Australian identity.10

Copyright and COVID-19

COVID-19 has impacted the copyright landscape in a variety of ways. People have been spending more time at home, leading them to consume more online content, create and share more art, and reimagine the ways in which they learn or work.

When asked about changes in time spent watching screen content (Figure C2), of those respondents who reported an increase in time spent watching screen content, the medium they were most likely to report was online content. Specifically, online subscription services (29 per cent reported an increase), free video streaming services (23 per cent reported an increase), and other websites and apps (16 per cent reported an increase).11 These increases were particularly pronounced in females (online subscription services and other websites or apps), people aged 18-34 (online subscription services, free video streaming services, and other websites or apps), and those living in metropolitan areas (online subscription services, free video services, and other websites or apps).12

Figure C2. Change in time spent watching screen content since COVID-19 – Total

Reflecting this increase in screen consumption, Screenrights reported an exponential growth in the use of members’ content, processing over 50 per cent more usage records than anticipated for the 2019–20 period due to COVID-19 (Figure C3).13 The Australian Communications and Media Authority also reports that 69 per cent of Australian adults listened to online audio content in the 6 months to June 2020, up from 65 per cent in 2019.14 Of those who listened, 29 per cent increased their consumption of online audio content since the COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020.

Figure C3. Total number of usage records of video content tracked over the last 3 years, by licence type (as reported by Screenrights)

Industries across Australia have had to alter the way they operate, including how they access and share copyright material. Responses from copyright collecting societies, such as APRA AMCOS, the Australian Publishers Association, the Phonographic Performance Company (PPCA), OneMusic and Screenrights, include amending licences to reflect changes in use, expediting royalty payments for businesses to lessen the impact presented by COVID-19, providing guidance around the use of copyright materials while teaching remotely, and offering a range of content for free.

Online infringement during COVID-19

Australian traffic on piracy sites shows that COVID restrictions appear to have impacted visits to piracy sites in the short-term; however, the data does not indicate that it is likely to have a long-term effect on piracy levels (Figure C4).15 The pattern of visits to piracy sites in 2020 remain consistent with year-on-year trends across industries, and overall visits to piracy sites have decreased substantially since 2017.

Figure C4. Australian traffic to piracy sites

In 2020, the proportion of respondents to the Online Copyright Infringement Survey who reported consuming music and movies from an unlawful source was broadly consistent compared to 2019 (Figure C5). The 2020 survey sets a new benchmark for measuring unlawful consumption of content in Australia, as the survey underwent a methodological overhaul. The updated indicators are designed to capture contemporary methods of consumption, focus on attitudes and further explore motivations and behaviours.16 Further, it is possible the 2020 results were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, as the survey period corresponded with the height of COVID-19 restrictions in Australia.

Figure C5. Number of people who consumed online content in 2020

The 2020 survey indicated that a total of 34 per cent of users who downloaded or accessed content online in the period of March-June 2020 had consumed some content that was likely to be unlawful.17 The survey also showed that 13 per cent of respondents reported being more concerned about the lawfulness of their consumption during the pandemic, while just 3 per cent said they had been less concerned.18 Interestingly, infringers were more likely to be concerned (26 per cent) than non-infringers (8 per cent).19

Conclusion

Copyright continues to play a critical role in ensuring Australians are rewarded for their creative skill and labour. The copyright industries contribute significantly to Australia’s economy and society, and have shown resilience in the face of a global pandemic.

Endnotes

  1. The economic contribution of Australia’s copyright industries – 2006-2018, PwC, June 2020

  2. Supporting Australian stories on our screens: Options paper, Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Communications, March 2020

  3. Book Publishing in Australia (Industry Report J5413), IBISWorld, May 2019

  4. Copyright Agency Annual Report 2020, Copyright Agency Limited, 2020

  5. 2019-20 Annual Report, Screenrights, 2020

  6. APRA AMCOS Year In Review 2019-20, APRA AMCOS, 2020

  7. Creating our future: Results of the national arts participation survey, Australia Council for the Arts, 2020

  8. Creating our future: Results of the national arts participation survey, Australia Council for the Arts, 2020 p.152

  9. Creating our future: Results of the national arts participation survey, Australia Council for the Arts, 2020 p. 156

  10. Creating our future: Results of the national arts participation survey, Australia Council for the Arts, 2020 p. 40

  11. Media content consumption survey, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, 2020 p. 26

  12. Media content consumption survey, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, 2020 pp. 27-29

  13. 2019-20 Annual Report Highlights, Screenrights, 2020

  14. Trends in viewing and listening behaviour, Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2020

  15. Source: internal analysis by Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications of MUSO Piracy by Industry data, 2020

  16. 2020 Copyright infringement survey, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, 2020 pp.5-9

  17. 2020 Copyright infringement survey, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, 2020 p.3

  18. 2020 Copyright infringement survey, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, 2020 p.84

  19. 2020 Copyright infringement survey, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, 2020 p.9


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