[A2k] Et Tu Australia: Attorney-General commits to major overhaul of the Copyright Act

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Tue Feb 18 06:53:02 PST 2014


Attorney-General commits to major overhaul of the Copyright Act
Submitted by Trish on 17 February 2014
Copyright Act needs reform: must balance benefits for creators against a
range of public interests

It has been a big week for Australian Copyright.  On Thursday the
Attorney-General, the Hon George Brandis QC, tabled the long-anticipated
final report from the Australian Law Reform Commission's (ALRC) Copyright
and the Digital Economy inquiry.  This inquiry was charged with determining
if copyright exceptions and limitations were working in the digital age.
 The conclusion was that reform was needed.  The ALRC recommended:

Replacing most specific copyright exceptions with a broad, flexible 'fair
use' exception
Retaining and simplifying some specific exceptions, such as preservation
copying and document supply for libraries and archives, and exceptions for
some government and judicial uses.
Reforming the statutory licences for government and education
Limiting remedies for use of orphan works where a reasonable diligent
search has been carried out prior to use
Preserving the library exceptions (and the fall-back recommendation of
extended fair dealing) from contracting out.
Recommendations about broadcasting for the government to consider when
setting media and communications policy
On Friday the Attorney-General delivered a crucial speech at the Australian
Digital Alliance Forum, which sets out the Government's priorities and
approaches to copyright.  Reflecting on the history and development of
copyright, the Attorney-General referred to Thomas Macaulay:

His central insight is to remind us that copyright is a monopoly - a
necessary monopoly - but a monopoly nonetheless.

Moving to the present, the Attorney-General noted the world had changed
much from the 1800s, we now expect much more than a good supply of books,
and our cultural industries are a central part of our economic and societal
wellbeing.  In this modern world, the Attorney-General firmly recommitted
to preserving fundamental principles of copyright law.

It is true that we now consume, create and distribute content in ways that
would have been beyond imagining when Macaulay introduced the first
copyright law.  It does not follow, I think, that the principles that
underpin copyright are incapable of adapting.

They have adapted to cinema, radio, television and personal computers, why
not to technologies of which we are still to dream.

However, the Copyright Act has not adapted well to new technologies.
 Noting the many issues facing cultural institutions, consumers, education
and industries the Attorney-General described the Act as:

overly long, unnecessarily complex, often comically outdated and all too
often, in its administration, pointlessly bureaucratic.

The Attorney-General committed to a major overhaul of the Act being
'convinced that we can do much to improve how copyright works in this
country.'  This is a point few would disagree with, many of the over 800
submissions to the ALRC inquiry detailed the many instances where copyright
law either inhibited public interest and innovative uses, or increased
organisations' regulatory uncertainty.  From libraries unable to make
cultural heritage available to the lack of support for cloud computing, the
issues with the current Act and its narrow exceptions are well documented.
 For the process of reform, the Attorney-General committed to the following:

First, when this process is finished, and it will be a through and
exhaustive exercise in law reform, the Copyright Act, will be shorter,
simpler and easier to use and understand.

Secondly, the Act will be technology neutral - no more amusing references
to videotapes as we find in current section 110AA.

Thirdly, we will pay careful regard to the broader international legal and
economic context, we all know that Australia's laws cannot exist in a
vacuum, they must operate efficiently within a global copyright system.
 That is particularly important as the Abbott Government continues, to
number among its signature achievements, the negotiation of free trade
agreements with our major trading partners, which, as you all know, contain
important provisions concerning copyright and other intellectual property

On the major ALRC recommendation of fair use, the Attorney-General remains
'to be persuaded that this is the best direction' but nevertheless he will
'bring an open and inquiring mind to the debate.' He also noted his
concerns about online piracy, and suggested some of the actions he would
consider in response, including ISPs issuing graduated warnings or taking
down sites containing infringeing material.

In closing, in the words of the Attorney-General:

The challenge for us today is how to balance the benefits for creators
against a range of other public interests including the interests of users,
educators and other important public goods... I wish you well in your
deliberations and look forward to constructive engagement with you as we
develop our law reforms in this very important area.

The full text of the Attorney-General's speech can be found here

Manon Ress, Ph.D.
Knowledge Ecology International, KEI
manon.ress at keionline.org, tel.: +1 202 332 2670

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