Screenrights declared for government use of audio-visual content from the internet


Audio-Visual Copyright Society Limited [2015] ACopyT 4 [1]


On 16 October 2015, Justice Bennett, the President of the Copyright Tribunal of Australia, declared Screenrights to be the collecting society in relation to government copies of sound recordings, cinematograph films, broadcasts, and any works included, where the copy was made from a communication to the public or from a copy made from a communication to the public. This new technology-neutral declaration means that Screenrights is now declared for government copies made from the internet, in addition to copies made from television and radio broadcasts.

Section 183 of the Copyright Act 1968 is a statutory licence that allows governments (Commonwealth, State and Territory, but not local government) to use copyright material for the “services of the crown”. Section 183A provides that where a collecting society is declared in relation to use of copyright material by governments, equitable remuneration is to be paid by the government to the collecting society where the government uses copyright material in the scope of the declaration. Section 153F provides a power for the Tribunal to declare collecting societies. Section 153G provides a power for the Tribunal to revoke a declaration made under section 153F.

On 4 May 2000, Screenrights was declared to be the collecting society for copying of sound recordings, cinematograph films, broadcasts, and any works included, where the copy was made from a television or radio broadcast (“the previous declaration”). The Tribunal noted the scope of the previous declaration was a product of its time, when the transmission of audio-visual content on the internet was in its infancy, and when most government copying of audio-visual content was from television or radio. Screenrights submitted that since 2000, “dramatic changes in communications technologies” had occurred and one effect of these changes is that broadcasters routinely make their broadcast content available on the internet and newer internet-only streaming services are now established in the market. As these communications technologies have changed, government copying practices with regard to audio-visual content have changed as well. Screenrights submitted that government copying on the internet and outside the scope of the existing declaration presented complex administrative issues for Screenrights and governments, to their mutual detriment.

Screenrights applied to the Tribunal for a declaration that the previous declaration be extended from copying from broadcasts to copying from communications. The Tribunal agreed and revoked the previous declaration, substituting it for the new declaration. The scope of the previous declaration is preserved in the new declaration, because broadcasts fall within the right of communication to the public. The new declaration now means that where government copies audio-visual content from the internet, such as from ABC iView, SBS On Demand, Foxtel Go, Netflix, YouTube or any other website, Screenrights is able to more easily facilitate collection of payment from governments and distribute the payments to the copyright owners. Screenrights will continue to collect payments for government copying of television and radio broadcasts. The scope of the new declaration was informed by consultations with affected industries.