Kimberlee’s paper, Internet Intermediaries and Copyright: an Australian Agenda for Reform is available on the ADA’s website: www.digital.org.au/submission/documents/Weatherall-InternetIntermediariesandCopyright.pdf.
Key parts of the regulatory frame work that underpin the digital economy are slowing its growth and are in need of reform, and urgent debate and discussion in Australia.
Two central findings in Kimberlee’s paper point to the shortcomings of Australian copyright law.
Finding 1 – Many of the common activities that internet companies need to perform to provide the products and services that make the internet important and useful to us are legal y risky in Australia due to a lack of protection or uncertain legal treatment. Such activities include: operating a cache, web hosting, hosting user generated content and operating a search engine.
Finding 2 – Australia’s copyright laws relevant to internet companies are inflexible and out of step with the law in comparable countries, which can act as a disincentive for investment in the Australian digital economy.
Enabling the digital economy is critical to Australia’s future. Kimberlee identifies changes which would make the Australian digital economy more vibrant and conducive to innovation.
Recommendation 1 – Australia should amend the Copyright Act to ensure that all online service providers are protected by the safe harbours. Safe harbours afford some legal protection to providers of services which an end-user may, from time to time, use to infringe copyright, provided they follow procedures to disable access to infringing content.
The Attorney-General recently announced that his Department will consult on broadening the safe harbours.
Kimberlee’s report is further evidence of the need for this. Creating safe harbours that protect al types of online service providers will stimulate the growth of the digital economy.
Recommendation 2 – Australia should introduce a new, flexible exception into the Copyright Act which would permit common internet activities such as caching and indexing, as well as ‘future proof’ copyright laws by enabling innovators and courts to decide whether new uses of copyright material are fair against a set of criteria which protect the rights and interests of copyright owners.
Recommendation 3 – If recommendation 2 is not accepted, at a minimum, Australia should introduce new exceptions into the Copyright Act to provide legal certainty for common internet activities.
The Attorney-General has also announced that he intends to provide the Australian Law Review Commission with a reference on copyright and that believes there is “merit in examining some exceptions under [Australia’s] law in the context of the online environment and whether the correct balance exists”: http://bit.ly/h0iBXz. This referral is an excellent opportunity to remedy the shortcomings identified in Kimberlee’s report.
Kimberlee Weatherall is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland School of Law and an Australian Digital Alliance Director
The Australian Digital Alliance is a non-profit cross-sectoral coalition founded to represent the public interest perspective in the copyright debate and to advocate for balanced copyright law. It represents universities, schools, ICT companies, individuals, galleries, libraries, archives and museums.