The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) will conduct a review of copyright law this year and will release its recommendations in November 2013.
In December 2011, the Attorney General announced the inquiry would be led by Professor Jill McKeough, Dean of Law at the University of Technology, Sydney.
The government released draft terms of reference for the inquiry in late March 2012 for comment. The draft terms of reference confine the inquiry to ‘whether the exceptions in the Copyright Act 1968 are adequate and appropriate in the digital environment’ and, in particular, whether there should be new exceptions to ‘facilitate legitimate use of copyright works to create and deliver new products and services of public benefit’ and ‘allow legitimate non-commercial use of copyright works for uses on the internet such as social networking’.
The draft terms specifically exclude issues that are the subject of current review processes: unauthorised peer-to-peer filesharing; extension of the ‘safe harbour’ provisions that limit the liability of online service providers; exceptions that allow people to circumvent technological protection measures such as passwords and digital locks; and accessible formats for people with a print disability. It also requires the ALRC to take account of recommendations from related reviews, particularly Convergence Review (whose final report is due now).
In the media release announcing the release of the draft terms of reference, the Attorney General referred to ‘the fact that technology is constantly evolving and testing the boundaries of copyright law’, that ‘[i]n our fast changing, technologically driven world, it is important to ensure our copyright laws are keeping pace with change and able to respond to future challenges’ and that the government wants ‘to ensure this review has enough scope to look at the key areas of copyright’.
The draft terms of reference are at odds with the statements in the media release. The draft indicates a worrying assumption that new exceptions are necessary for the online environment, and that a review of how the copyright system can deliver benefits to Australian society as a whole can be done by considering exceptions in isolation. By comparison, reviews in other countries are looking at the operation of copyright law as a whole in meeting the social objectives of promoting new content, innovation and access to that content.
The UK government is currently following up its acceptance of the recommendations by Professor Ian Hargreaves in his May 2011 report on UK copyright law. That includes commissioning a feasibility study of a Digital Copyright Exchange. The UK government also launched a consultation process on proposals to change the UK’s copyright system in December 2011.
A review is also underway in Ireland. The Review Committee released an interim Consultation Paper on Copyright and Innovation in February 2012, with an invitation for further submissions.
Our submission on the draft terms of reference is here. Once the terms of reference for the ALRC inquiry are finalised, the ALRC will begin its inquiry. In accordance with its normal processes, the ALRC will release an issues paper inviting submissions, a draft report and a final report.
If you want to be kept up to date about the progress of the review, you can subscribe to the ALRC’s e-alerts for the inquiry on its webpage for the inquiry: http://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/copyright.