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Thursday, 10 March 1932


Mr NAIRN (Perth) .- This commission is being launched with the good-will of the people of Australia. In deciding its composition there are two alternative methods from which to choose. One is the appointment of a small commission of experts working full time, and the other is the appointment of a commission in the nature of an advisory board with power to appoint a general manager, who wouldconduct and organize the details of the undertaking. The Government has chosen the latter alternative.

It is obvious that efficiency is essential if the scheme is to be a success. The revenue to be derived from broadcasting will depend largely upon the service that is given to the public. It is the opinion of those engaged in the radio business that, provided that they can substantially improve the present standard of the broadcasting service, they will be able to increase the revenue that is obtained from licence-fees most satisfactorily.

The scheme that has been adopted by the Government suggests to me a possible drawback. Up to the present the broadcasting service that has been made available to people in outlying communities, such as that from which I come, has been much inferior to that enjoyed by those who live in the more populous centres. In Western Australia, particularly, we have been singularly unfortunate. There we have no really effective transmitting station, and it seems improbable that we shall have one for at least another twelve months. The drawback that I see to this project is that it provides such small salaries for the commissioners; that those gentlemen will necessarily live in one or another of the large cities on our eastern coast and their vision will be limited to those centres. I wish to make one or two suggestions in connexion with the personnel of the commission. We have been told that a lady member is to be appointed. I hope that the claims of Western Australia will be considered in this regard, for it may be possible to get a lady from that State who, for £300 a year, will give her whole time to this work. It will not be possible to get a competent man to make this a whole-time position for £300 a year.


Mr White - It is not meant to be a whole-time job.


Mr NAIRN - That is so ; and a competent man would not come from a distant State like Western Australia for this remuneration; but a lady might be induced to do so. Unless something like this can be done, the interests of the distant States are likely to be forgotten under the new scheme as they have been under the present one.

I am glad that provision is being made for the appointment of advisory committees. I hope that the commission will set up such committees in the distant States which it is not able to visit. I trust that the commission will not be overloaded with gentlemen whose commercial interests may influence their decision as commissioners.

I wish to pay a tribute to the excellent work being done by B class stations. In Western Australia we are very much beholden to these stations for the programmes they put on the air, and I hope that more consideration will be given to them than they have had in the past. I am sorry that the advertising field is not being left solely to the B class stations.

The attitude which the commission will adopt towards the Performing Right Association is a matter of great importance. Many complaints have been made about the operations of this association, which, I understand, is a branch of an international organization. It is recognized, of course, that copyright must be protected, and I am not prepared to accept, without investigation, all the allegations that are made against the Performing Right Association. It is alleged, among other things, that the original Performing Right Association obtained a virtual monopoly of copyright of large quantities of music before the value of radio was really understood. We have been told that certain wealthy interests formed themselves into a combination and acquired numerous assignments of rights, and established themselves in an almost unassailable position. It has been said, in defence of this association, that it is simply a co-operative association, and that its profits are distributed among the composers of the music; but we have also been told that the composers merely get the lump sum which is paid for the assignment of rights to the association, and that the profits of the organization are enjoyed solely by the few financial gentlemen who comprise it. These statements should be carefully investigated. It is unfortunately very difficult to ascertain exactly how this association conducts its operations, because it pursues a policy of concealment. It will not declare where it stands or what copyrights it holds. It is alleged, also, that the association unfairly charges for chairs at certain entertainments whether they are occupied or not. Producers pay royalties to composers, and the users claim that when they buy the films they buy the music. Still the association levies further toll on the users and will not indicate the music over which it holds rights. The consequence is that users of music are subjected to a kind of blackmail. They cannot find out what music is copyrighted, yet if they perform certain copyright works in ignorance, they are called upon to pay fees or else a writ is issued against them claiming damages and an injunction. This threat is held over small societies and semi-private organizations, which at times, arrange concerts or entertainments to provide funds to maintain their activities. Sometimes a small charge is made for admission to such performances for the purpose of covering legitimate expenses, and the organizers subsequently find themselves called upon to pay heavy fees. A pianist may play only one copyright piece in an evening, but this is sufficient to involve the organizers of the entertainment in legal proceedings if they do not accede to the demands of the Performing Right Association.

Unfortunately, our Copyright Act does not make registration compulsory. If registration were compulsory, people would know where they stood, and they could, if they desired, avoid the performance of copyright music. I do not think that ' the position in this respect should be left where it is. Performers of musa should be able to ascertain where they stand. Copyright is much more serious than patent rights, because copyright exists during the lifetime of the author and for 50 years thereafter. A great deal of ingenuity has been displayed by the Performing Right Association in reconstructing the music of old masters so as to produce what passes for new compositions. Music which has been in more ot less common use for 20 or 30 years is, in some cases, rewritten and slightly altered so that a new copyright may be obtained. The most outstanding example of this kind of thing is in connexion with the composition "Yes, we have no Bananas To-day", which, we are told, is a patchwork composed almost entirely of bars taken from great compositions. If the Copyright Act were amended to make registration compulsory, there would be some protection for the people.

I realize that the broadcasting commission will not have power to deal directly with the copyright law, but it should be able to make a review of the existing conditions and recommend alterations to the law. We have been told by representatives of the Government that the copyright law must be handled very carefully because of its international complications. On that ground there is a tendency to leave the subject severely alone, but I do not think that the Australian public will be content to allow things to remain where they are. It is true that Australia is a party to the International Copyright Convention, and "has agreed to protect the rights of composers of other countries in consideration of other countries protecting the rights of our composers; but we are not obliged to do this unconditionally. Though we have agreed to give fair and reasonable protection to the copyright compositions which we receive from other countries, we have not consented to submit to exploitation by an organization like the Performing Right Association.







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