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Breaching copyright using social media

The media has often reported that Foxtel was threatening to sue customers for the unauthorised ‘live streaming’ of much-anticipated boxing matches like the fight between veterans Danny Green and Anthony Mundine or Jeff Horn and Manny Pacquiao.

The illegal copyright act involved the video streaming of the live broadcast by some of Foxtel’s account holders, over social media, Facebook. Apparently, the numbers enjoying the free show exceeds hundreds of thousands, representing significant potential losses to Foxtel which was charging $59.95 to watch each of those big fights.

Whilst Foxtel’s paying customers may have thought they had a right to stream the material, they were technically ‘stealing’ from the company which held the copyright licence to broadcast the fight. Offenders could face potential fines of up to $60,000 or five years’ imprisonment.

Breach of copyright using social media can occur quite easily, however the threat of legal action against individuals in these circumstances reminds us to think twice about how we use our technology. Copyright infringement may have serious consequences.

Copyright laws in Australia

Copyright laws acknowledge that creators of original material should receive legal recognition and reward for their efforts and that third parties should not benefit unlawfully from another’s work.

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (the Act) protects artists, publishers and licence holders against the exploitation of copyright material in which they hold a legitimate interest. Consequently, the protection extends to those with the legal rights to use that material and includes companies who pay substantially to broadcast major sporting events and performances.

How do copyright laws work?

If an author or artist creates a certain piece of ‘work’ or ‘other subject matter’, it is automatically protected as intellectual property under copyright law. Content subject to copyright law includes literary works, artistic works, sound recordings, films, radio and television broadcasts and published editions of works.

A range of material created and used within an artistic and commercial environment is protected. For example, literary works include most material capable of being reduced to writing – letters, emails, computer programs, song lyrics, novels, texts and articles.

The owner of copyright material has exclusive rights to reproduce, publish, perform or make an adaptation of that work. The owner may also enter commercial hiring arrangements (a licence) giving others a right to use the protected work.

Infringement occurs when a person who neither owns the copyright material nor holds a licence undertakes an activity which is the exclusive right of the copyright holder. Consequently, the live streaming of a broadcast in which an individual does not hold a licence will breach copyright laws.

To help prevent infringement, the Act imposes penalties on those breaking the law and provides remedies to owners and licensees.

Copyright protection in social media platforms

Material available in digital format is vulnerable to copying, alteration, transformation and dissemination via the internet. Data can be mass produced easily and readily distributed with negligible loss of quality.

Copyright of digital material has increased since public access to the internet and the introduction of compression technology and P2P distribution systems. As technology accelerates, the Act has implemented various amendments to try to keep pace with the exhaustive means by which copyright in digital format can be infringed.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) encompasses a range of tools that assist in protecting copyright within the technological environment. Technologies such as encryption, digital watermarking and rights management information are used to prevent unauthorised access and use of copyright material. For example, Facebook recently launched a Rights Manager tool designed to protect copyright material such as videos and music from being illegally broadcast. Publishers apply to use Rights Manager.

The Act has endorsed the use of DRMs through its anti-circumvention provisions which make it illegal to use programs or services designed to circumvent these protection measures.

Recently, new rules were introduced giving further protection for copyright owners and licensees who may now seek Court orders forcing ISPs to block access to overseas sites that allow or facilitate copyright infringement.

It is anticipated that these new laws will help limit the damage that piracy does to certain Australian industries and reinforce the illegality of copyright infringement.

Breaking the rules with social media

Social media encourages the sharing of content with family and friends and, more often than not, a much larger social network. Caught up in the giving and receiving of digital content, it is easy to overlook some of the implications of online sharing.

From the Foxtel example, live streaming of copyright content to which the ‘offender’ has no exclusive rights may breach copyright laws. Similarly, technology users should think twice before downloading a movie from an illegal P2P site, rather than paying for it (for example, through iTunes) even if only planning to watch it solo.

Social media users should also think twice before reposting photos and content without permission. As a general rule, if it’s not yours, then either get permission from the original author or creator and acknowledge the source of the content, or don’t post it at all.

If you use social media, you should read the terms of agreement to ensure you are aware of your rights as a copyright holder and the actions that may constitute an offence.

Conclusion

There are laws in place to protect creators and copyright licence holders from the unauthorised infringement of original works. Broadcasters pay big dollars for exclusive television rights to sporting events and streaming these through your social media account is illegal.

Social media should be used responsibly, and users should be familiar with the types of behaviour that may breach copyright law.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 08 9422 8111 or email buslaw@taitlegal.com.au.