That thud sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor. Nate Hoffelder on The Digital Reader just posted an article about a report issued by an Australian government committee officially recommending that Australian citizens ignore geographic restrictions and buy digital content from other countries because it’s so expensive to buy it in Australia proper. (Weird that it comes so soon after another Australian government commission said there was nothing wrong with Apple’s high e-book prices, but I guess nobody said every part of a government had to agree.)
The report even recommended amending Australia’s copyright law to make it explicitly legal to do this, and said that the government should teach its citizens how to do it!
Can they do that? Seriously? I thought the Berne Convention specifically said everyone has to play nice with everyone else’s copyright laws. But then there were cases like Antigua, which the World Trade Organization said was permitted to disregard United States copyrights in retaliation for the US forbidding Internet gambling via Antiguan companies. Is this the beginning of a return to the days of the 19th century, when countries happily ignored other countries’ copyright laws and Charles Dickens had to tour the US and reach out to readers personally to make sure he got paid for his books?
Well, probably not. It would take a lot more countries ignoring others’ laws than just Australia to make that happen. But what gets me is that it’s necessary for Australia’s government to tell its people to buy from overseas where it’s cheaper. I mean, you would think they’d try to see what could be done to make that media cheaper in Australia so that Australian businesses could earn their money from Australian customers. There must be some government policies contributing to it, right?
Except that, in the part of the committee’s report looking at why prices were higher in Australia, it concluded that this was due at least in part to price discrimination “in the form of brand owners or international suppliers/manufacturers charging higher prices to Australian retailers relative to the prices they charge to similar retailers in other regions. These comparatively higher international supplier prices are then passed on to consumers.”
Although Australia does have higher labor costs, “the Committee is of the view that in many instances these higher costs cannot, even cumulatively, explain the price differences consumers experience in relation to many IT products, and especially those delivered via the internet.” That being the case, it’s easy to understand why they might recommend Australian consumers circumvent region protection and buy from wherever the goods are cheapest. If those bums are going to charge us more, we’ll just pay the rates their customers do instead.
There might be a certain degree of “shot fired across the bow” inherent in this report, of course. Perhaps they mean it as a warning to try to get the rest of the world to pay attention, staking out an extreme position they can back down from in return for concessions from elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine Australia urging its citizens to circumvent other nations’ region protection would exactly go unnoticed or unprotested in the UN and the WTO.