Australian Culture needs Copyright Reform

Cultural institutions and creators join industry, consumers and educators in support of fair use. 

Today libraries, cultural institutions and creators join other groups in welcoming the Attorney-General George Brandis’ commitment to fixing  Australia’s copyright law.

This coincides with the final report of the Australia Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) review of Australian copyright law, released last week. The exhaustive and independent review has recommended the introduction of fair use into Australia’s copyright law. 

In a speech given to the Australian Digital Alliance Forum last Friday, the Attorney-General noted that the current Copyright Act is  overly long, unnecessarily complex, often comically outdated and all too often, in its administration, pointlessly bureaucratic. .  He made a commitment to reform the Copyright Act, noting that it must balance benefits for creators against a range of public interests. 

‘The ALRC’s recommendations recognize the need for modern laws for modern times’ says Alex Byrne, NSW State Librarian ‘cultural institutions have a mandate to preserve Australia’s cultural heritage and make it accessible to all Australians.  We need to encourage people to be actively engaged with our rich collections, from books to drawings and manuscripts to maps, but current copyright restrictions are more suited to keeping collections under lock and key.  We need copyright reform to be able to make our collections widely available to everyone, especially those who use them to create.’

Libraries connect people with information and ideas' says Sue McKerracher, Executive Director of the Australian Libraries and Information Association (ALIA) 'and the internet has provided great opportunities; not only to discover what's already out there, but also to build on our existing knowledge.  This improves the lives of Australians.  Libraries make knowledge and culture easily accessible to everyone, but we are restricted by arcane copyright restrictions.  These disproportionately impact on those living in regional or remote areas, or those with disabilities.  The people who can't wander into their local library and pick up a book to read or search for facts at the click of a mouse.'

Dan Ilic, well known comic and film producer, was recently inspired to create the Creationistas project (www.creationistas.com supported by the ADA) exploring copyright and Digital Culture.  In the marquee video, two images are shown, one a photo of Julia Gillard with the words ‘we need to talk about Kevin’ the other a Julia Gillard/Kevin Rudd face swap. 

‘If you put these photos on your facebook wall’ cuts in the voice of DJ Sampology ‘only one is legal’. 

‘The first image falls under the fair dealing exception for parody and satire,’ Dan explains ‘the second is just funny.  There’s no copyright exceptions for being funny, even if it doesn’t harm the creator or the copyright holder’

‘We now have two generations of digital natives, two generations of people who have grown up with the internet.  This is about how people tell their stories.  This is about culture.  What we need is the freedom that fair use brings.’ 

National and State Libraries Australia (NSLA), ALIA, Australian Libraries Copyright Committee (A LCC), Australian Digital Alliance (ADA) and individual creators have joined a broad coalition of commercial, educational and consumer organisations in supporting the introduction of fair use.  

The proposed fair use system includes ‘fairness factors’ which look at what you are doing with the work and whether the use will harm the copyright holder.  This protects copyright holders against uses which may have a large impact on the market for the copyrighted material.  America has a fair use system, and is one of the largest producers of copyrighted content in the world.

Fair use will allow cultural institutions to preserve our cultural heritage, libraries to share knowledge and creators to create, while at the same time protecting content producers and artists.

The media statement is also available here 

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