Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
ALRC's Copyright inquiry report

Download PDFDownload PDF


Law ALRC’s Copyright inquiry report Mary-Anne Neilsen On 13 February 2014 the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released the much-anticipated final report of its inquiry, Copyright and the Digital Economy. The report follows a complex and ambitious 18 month inquiry in which the ALRC was asked to consider whether current copyright exceptions are adequate and appropriate in the digital era. When tabling the report in Parliament, the Attorney-General George Brandis said the ALRC inquiry was the most significant review of the Copyright Act since the Act came into operation in 1968.

Recommendations The report makes 30 recommendations which the ALRC President Professor Rosalind Croucher said ‘are designed to allow for a more principles-based and less prescriptive approach to copyright law’. In summary, the recommendations include:

• the introduction of a flexible fair use exemption as a defence to copyright infringement

• retaining and reforming some existing specific exemptions (including the exemptions that apply to parliamentary libraries), and introducing certain new specific exemptions

• clarifying the statutory licensing scheme

• changing the broadcasting exemptions and

• amending the Copyright Act to limit contracting out of copyright excemptions.

Undoubtedly the key recommendation is that Australia adopt a ‘fair use’ exception to copyright. Fair use is a defence to copyright infringement that essentially asks of any particular use: is this fair? In deciding whether a particular use of copyright material is fair, a number of principles, or ’fairness factors’ must be considered.

Fair use is found in a number of countries and notably has existed in the United States for the last 35 years. If introduced in Australia, fair use would build on existing Australian laws that allow fair dealing of copyright material for purposes such as research, study and reporting the news. The Commissioner in charge of the inquiry, Professor Jill McKeough described the advantages of fair use saying:

Fair use is a flexible exception that can be applied to new technologies and services, which is crucial in the digital economy. Fair use can facilitate the public interest in accessing material, encourage new productive uses, and stimulate competition and innovation […] But fair use also protects the interests of writers, musicians, film-makers, publishers and other rights holders. It was very important that in an inquiry about exceptions to copyright, we not lose sight of the purpose of copyright law.


Page 12 of 29


Fair use is undoubtedly a controversial doctrine. Its introduction to Australia is supported by the Internet industry, telecommunications companies, the education sector, cultural institutions and many others. However, fair use is largely opposed by rights holders. They argue there is no evidence that it would assist innovation and that an open-ended fair use exception would result in the balance between the interests of copyright owners and users being tipped too heavily in favour of users.

Responses to the report The Government is still to respond to the report. In a recent speech the Attorney-General acknowledged the need for copyright law reform, but stated that he remains to be persuaded that fair use is the best direction for Australian law.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has welcomed the public release of this significant report, stating he looks forward to the Government’s response.

The Australian Parliamentary Library and its state counterparts also welcome the report. As the summer edition of the Library’s Off the Shelf reported, the parliamentary libraries actively lobbied the inquiry about the importance of retaining and strengthening the copyright infringement exceptions that apply to parliamentary libraries. We are pleased that our recommendations were all accepted in the final report.

Changes to intercountry adoption regulations From 4 March 2014, new regulations affecting intercountry adoptions from Taiwan, South Korea and Ethiopia came into force. The effect of these regulations is to streamline the process of finalising adoptions from these countries. Adoption orders issued in Taiwan and South Korea can now be recognised

automatically, rather than having to be finalised through the court system, which can take up to 12 months.

The Ethiopia-Australia intercountry adoption program closed in June 2012; however there are still some families who have not yet finalised their adoption. These families will now benefit from the automatic recognition provisions.

These new regulations only affect adoptions from countries with which Australia has a bilateral adoption agreement but which are not formal signatories to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption. Adoptions granted in countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention are already automatically recognised in Australia.

Library lecture on the ALRC report Professor Jill McKeough, the Commissioner for the ALRC Inquiry: Copyright and the Digital Economy, presented a Library lecture on Wednesday, 4 June 2014. Click here to listen to the lecture or view the slides.


Page 13 of 29