In a move that counteracts the hard stance in the United States, Australian music industry officials are gauging a plan to endorse compact disc-copying vending machines. The proposal is an example of the measures major record companies may have to swallow as technological advances in music distribution are made, or risk being accused of anticompetitive behavior, a legal expert involved in the industry said Wednesday.
An Australian maker of compact disc burners asked the Australian Record Industry Association, or ARIA, and the Australian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society to let the machines be operated in public places in return for a small royalty fee for every compact disc copied.
Greg Moore, chief executive of Adelaide-based Little Ripper CD Burner Pty. Ltd., said the coin-operated machines were intended for use by people who want to make backup copies of their own CDs in case of damage or loss of the original.
Under Australian copyright law, that is illegal.
The burners could be located in convenience stores across the country, and would charge about 5 Australian dollars, or $2.85, to copy a disc, Moore said. A small percentage of that fee would go toward royalties.
Exact details of how the royalties would be distributed haven't been divulged.
Some CD copying machines have already been installed in convenience stores around Australia by independent operators. They work under the same legal obligations as photocopiers — the onus is on users, and not the machines' owners, to uphold copyright laws.
Moore said the Australian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society, or AMCOS, which represents some 30,000 songwriters and music publishers, was "very receptive" to his proposal.
"We're negotiating a deal. It's not finalized, but it's progressing nicely," Moore told The Associated Press.
AMCOS transmission licensing director Richard Mallett confirmed that the society was in talks with Little Ripper, "but precise details of any licensing agreements have not been discussed."
Michael Speck, of ARIA's anti-piracy investigations unit, also confirmed the record industry lobby group was looking at the proposal.
"An approach has been made and it will be considered," he said. "However, I can see some significant difficulties in anyone in the process adequately, fairly or justly compensating the copyright owners."
Speck said there were legitimate uses for the devices, but "the risk of a burner being used for illegitimate purposes increases dramatically when it's put on a street corner."
Owen Trembath, a former music lawyer turned industry consultant, said the proposal gave the record industry little room to maneuver.
He said if record companies agree to the deal, but inflate the price of licensing fees charged to the vending machine owners to protect their own product, they may be at risk of being accused of anticompetitive business practices.
If they don't agree to the proposal, the vending machines could ultimately flourish, and record companies and song writers won't see any sort of payment, he said.