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

Copyright provides exclusive economic rights that allow the copyright owner to do certain acts with their copyright material. These acts include copying, publishing, communicating (e.g., broadcasting, making available online) or publicly performing the copyright material. Copyright owners may also licence another person to do some or all of those acts. Copyright law also provides non-economic rights, known as moral rights, which are designed to protect the creative integrity of copyright creators.

In Australia, copyright is granted automatically from the time an original work is created and does not need to be registered. With no formalities and low barriers to protection, copyright is easily accessible to different sectors, including small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

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 contribution of copyright to Australia

Copyright has a central role in content-based industries, as a driver of economic value. Collectively, these industries are sometimes referred to as the ‘creative economy’ as a way of recognising the economic value of creativity and innovation underpinned by IP rights.1

Measuring the contribution of the content-based industries is one way to gauge the value of economic activity enabled by copyright. A study commissioned by the Australian Copyright Council and conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) found that Australian industries that rely on copyright protection contributed $124.1 billion to the Australian economy in 2018.2 This estimate included $7.5 billion contributed by non-dedicated industries3 which support ‘core’ copyright industries. The study used a methodology developed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

A more recent publication by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications estimated that ‘cultural and creative activity’ contributed $115.8 billion to the Australian economy in 2018–19 (Figure C1).4 The economic contribution was equivalent to 6% of Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP). The analysis captured smaller sectors (such as zoological and botanical gardens operations) not directly underpinned by copyright though it excluded non-dedicated industries.5 The publication found that industries with the greatest contribution to cultural and creative activity included design at $45.3 billion, fashion at $14.7 billion, and broadcasting, electronic or digital media and film at $9.2 billion. Findings from the PWC study showed that these industries were supported by copyright to some degree.

Figure C1: Cultural and creative activity (value and share of GDP)

Source: The economic contribution of Australia’s copyright industries – 2006-2018, PwC, June 2020. Notes: * ‘Other’ includes museums, libraries and archives, performing arts, environmental heritage, music composition and publishing, visual arts and crafts, culture goods manufacturing and sales and supporting activities. ** ‘Compensation of employees’ is income received by individuals working in cultural and creative occupations that are outside industries identified as cultural and creative.

Access to copyright content

Copyright law provides creators important incentives to create new content and facilitates access to that content for users. The copyright framework also provides mechanisms by which creators can maintain control over access to their work.

The value of licencing through collecting societies

Direct licensing arrangements between copyright owners and users comprise a significant portion of the economic contribution attributable to copyright. Australia’s copyright arrangements also include collecting societies. These bodies collect fees from licensing arrangements that allow uses of large numbers of copyright material, and distribute the fees to the owners of the creative works. For users and owners of creative content, negotiating individual licences can be a burdensome and costly process, potentially outweighing their value. Collective licensing reduces these costs and is commonly relied upon by educational institutions, governments and businesses for access to copyright material.

The annual reports of collecting societies provide insight into the levels at which copyright material is being used. In 2020-21:

  • $430.7 million was distributed to over 409,000 copyright owners in the music industry, including musicians, composers, songwriters and publishers, by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS), together known as APRA AMCOS.6
  • $102 million in revenue was distributed to more than 17,000 rights holders including writers, artists, publishers and agents by Copyright Agency Limited (CAL).7
  • $36.4 million was distributed to registered artists and licensors by the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA).8
  • $45.3 million was distributed to 4,900 copyright owners in the audiovisual sector such as producers, directors, broadcasters and agents by Screenrights.9
  • Screenrights reported significant growth in the use of members’ content, with record levels of usage for 2020–21 due to COVID-19 (see Figure C2).

Figure C2: Total number of screen programs that have been used in Australian educational institutions, as reported by Screenrights for the Australian Educational Licence, 2018/19 to 2020/21

Source: Media content consumption survey: Analytical Report, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, December 2021

Consumption of screen content

Screen content is one of the most common formats in which Australians consume licensed copyright material. The ways in which Australians consume screen content are continually evolving. Australians’ media content consumption behaviours are explored in the Media Content Consumption Survey, commissioned by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and the Arts.10 In 2021, more Australian adults consumed screen content through online subscription services than through any other individual types of service (62% of respondents report using these services, up from 60% in 2020). At the same time as use of online subscription services has grown, a long-term decline has occurred in rates of online infringement (see Copyright Infringement section below).

In 2021, commercial free-to-air television was the second leading source of screen content for Australian adults (58% of respondents, slightly down from 61% in 2020). See Figure C3 for further details.

Figure C3: Means of consuming screen content

Source: Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement 2021, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, December 2021. Notes: Significantly different to the other sub-group at the 95% confidence level. Notes: Significantly different to the other sub-group at the 95% confidence level.

The impact of COVID-19

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, people have been spending more time at home, leading them to consume more online content.

The Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement (the ‘Consumer Survey’), an annual publication by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, analyses ongoing trends in online copyright infringement.11 According to the 2021 Consumer Survey, overall consumption of content online was slightly lower than was reported in the 2020 survey, and is much higher than when the survey began in 2015. The 2020 survey was conducted in the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the 2021 survey took place during the pandemic but at a time when no major travel restrictions were in place – see Figure C4.12

Figure C4: Online content consumption across five content types (television, film, music, video games and live sport) over a three-month period

Source: MUSO Piracy by Industry data, 2021. Notes: *Comparisons of 2020 and 2021 results against previous years’ results should take into account changes in approach to data collection, including movement to entirely online surveys (rather than including a small proportion of telephone surveys with non-internet users), and the later timing of the 2020 survey (March-June) compared to other years (January-April). **The 2019 figure has been presented for live sport in place of a 2015 figure, as live sport was not measured until 2019.

Copyright Infringement

According to industry data, Australian traffic13 on piracy sites for film, TV and music has been trending downwards since at least 2017 (the earliest year for which this data is available to the Department). Traffic to these piracy sites reached its lowest level in 2020 and moderately increased in 2021 (see Figure C5).14

Figure C5: Australian traffic to piracy sites15

Source: MUSO Piracy by Industry data, 2021


Broadly, however, the Consumer Survey shows, there has been a long-term decline in the unlawful consumption of copyright material since at least 2015, when the survey began, and copyright infringement decreased in 2021 from 2020 levels.16 The survey finds that the proportion of Australians consuming some copyright material unlawfully continues to be dependent on the type of content (Figure C6). For example, with 57% of Australians consuming TV programs online, 11% of Australians report consuming at least some of this content in ways that are likely to be unlawful.

Figure C6: Share of Australian population who consumed online content in 2021

Source: Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement 2021, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, December 2021.


Australia’s website blocking scheme allows copyright owners to apply to the Federal Court of Australia to block an online site that operates outside Australia with the purpose of infringing copyright material. As of December 2021, a total of 1,387 websites have been blocked since 2015 when the scheme commenced. In the 2021 Consumer Survey, most respondents that had encountered a website blocked by the scheme reported either that they ‘gave up’ or sought lawful access (Figure C7).17

Figure C7: Actions taken when encountering a blocked website

Source: Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement 2021, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, December 2021.

Endnotes

  1. Guide on Surveying the Economic Contribution of the Copyright-Based Industries, WIPO, 2015.

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

  3. ‘Non-dedicated’ includes industries in which a portion of the activities are related to facilitating broadcast, communication, distribution or sales of works and other protected subject matter, and whose activities have not been included in the core copyright industries.

  4. At a glance: Cultural and Creative Activity estimates 2009–10 to 2018–19, Bureau of Communications, Arts and Regional Research, September 2021.

  5. The analysis uses the same approach taken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in their Cultural and Creative Activity Satellite Account and includes a broad range of industries where cultural and creative activity occurs.

  6. APRA AMCOS Year In Review 2020-21, APRA AMCOS, 2021.

  7. Copyright Agency Annual Report 2020-21, Copyright Agency Limited, 2020.

  8. PPCA Annual Report 2021, Phonographic Performance Company of Australia, 2021.

  9. Screenrights 2019-20 Annual Report, Screenrights, 2020.

  10. Media content consumption survey: Analytical Report, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, December 2021.

  11. Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement 2021, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, December 2021.

  12. Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement 2021, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, December 2021.

  13. Traffic is defined to include a visitor accessing one or more pages within a piracy site. Subsequent page views are included in the same visit until the user is inactive for more than 30 minutes. If a visitor becomes active again after 30 minutes, this is counted as a new visit.

  14. MUSO Piracy by Industry data, 2021.

  15. Total Australian traffic to piracy sites in years prior to 2021 has been adjusted (increased) since this data was presented in the Australian IP Report 2021 as methodology improvements have more accurately accounted for mobile traffic.

  16. The Consumer Survey employs a different methodology to MUSO, including timing of data collection, which was conducted over a three month period prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns in the second half of 2021.

  17. Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement 2021, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, December 2021.


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