Memo To The Next Google: Don't Set Up Shop In Australia

If the Copyright Amendment Bill 2006 is rushed through Parliament, then Australians will be the not-so-proud owners of a complex and inflexible copyright regime that's out-of-date the day it becomes law. Despite what seemed like good intentions, the government has delivered a 200 page mess of changes, with no "fair use" flexibility that U.S. consumers and innovators depend on.

“What’s most disturbing is that this Bill is so demonstrably anti-innovation, and for no good reason. U.S. fair use has given businesses like Google, iTunes and YouTube enough room to explore new business models without being suffocated at birth by outdated copyright laws. Without fair use, the next great Internet company is unlikely to come out of Australia,” said ADA Chairman, Jamie Wodetzki.

“Even worse, this Bill risks making ordinary Australians criminals, in some cases where they don’t even know they’re breaking copyright law.”

The ADA has called upon the Federal Government to embrace a flexible defence of fair use to ensure that Australia’s copyright laws are credible, relevant, and timely for consumers and technology developers alike.

The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs today published its report on the Bill, which was introduced into Parliament on 18 October and is due to become law in December.

Despite the short time-frame the Committee was required to report within, the Committee recognised a number of serious flaws in the proposed legislation and made a number of recommendations in line with the ADA’s concerns.

Amongst the Committee’s recommendations, it recommended that ordinary uses by consumers of digital music players be rendered legitimate, that copying for preservation purposes in educational and cultural institutions be legitimised, that the criminal offences provisions be re-drafted to ensure that activities of ordinary Australians and legitimate businesses are not caught, and that contracting out of the exceptions to the TPM scheme be prohibited.

Labor and Democrats Senators recommended deferral of the Bill.  In recognising the serious flaws in the consultative process, Labor Senators noted:

“The extremely complex nature of the issues coupled with the extremely short time-frame set by the Government for the inquiry, seriously hampered the Committee in its efforts to comprehensively consider and report on all the evidence before it”.

Whilst there is no doubt that an overhaul of copyright legislation is much required, unless the Government heeds the recommendations of this report and allows further consultation in relation to the very complex provisions of this Bill, it will almost certainly fail in its stated aim of bringing our laws in line with rapidly changing technological realities.