The Australian House of Representatives House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications is currently conducting an Inquiry into IT Pricing. The terms of reference ask, basically, do Australians pay more for copyright materials, and, if so, why, and what can be done about it. It’s a good thing that this inquiry is going on, although it does seem at least a little farcical. The answer, to anyone who has ever bought any copyrighted material, ought to be obvious – yes we are paying more. The reason ought to be obvious as well – copyright, when it hasn’t been a form of censorship, is a form of welfare support for publishers. Its entire purpose is to inflate prices without fear of competition. They can charge more because the Government accepts the proposition that they need to be subsidised in order to produce copyright material. That’s why they amended the Copyright Act to define software as books. How much subsidy? Well, as much as they choose through the price they set. Australians are entitled to subsidise them more per capita than other people because… well, that’s what parallel importation provisions mean (ie if something is published in the US it can’t be bought there and exported to Australia by a third party).
The inquiry, in essence, is covering exactly the same ground that the Productivity Commission covered in its Inquiry into Parallel Importation. What happened there? A lay-down mizere argument, backed by solid economics and logic was overcome by the unstoppable political power wielded by the copyright corporations.
This, though, is the kicker:
“In order to facilitate electronic publishing of submissions, the Committee would prefer them to be emailed to email@example.com in Microsoft Word® or Portable Document Format (PDF).“
Why do we charge so much? Because we can. Why can we charge so much? Because peeps like you require Australians to buy our products so they can access public services. It’s a network effect don’t you know?
If you want to solve this problem, you could start by creating a level playing field for alternative products in Government purchasing and in Government use of software – try an open (as in open as opposed to standardised) document format for storing files. Next, try repealing the parallel importation provisions. Finally, think about moving copyright from a subsidy scheme to a property scheme. This, though would mean that people own the copies they buy and can do with them what they choose.