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Tuesday, 27 June 2000
Page: 18377

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (10:27 PM) —in reply—I would like to sum up the debate on this interesting bill and, in doing so, I would like to thank the members for Barton, Sturt, Gellibrand, Menzies, Lowe, Cook, the Northern Territory, Curtin, Hinkler, Maribyrnong and Calare for their valuable contributions to the debate on the bill. I introduced the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Bill 1999 to this House in September 1999. As I said at that time, these reforms will update Australia's copyright standards to meet the challenges posed by rapid developments in communications technology, in particular the huge expansion of the Internet. This extraordinary pace of development threatens the delicate balance which has existed between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of copyright users. The central aim of the bill, therefore, is to ensure that copyright law continues to promote creative endeavour and, at the same time, allows reasonable access to copyright material in the digital environment.

The shadow Attorney-General and member for Barton has already commented on the exhaustive and, I might say, exhausting consultation process that has brought us to this point. I express my thanks to all the individuals and interest groups who have contributed so effectively to that process. Their views have been invaluable, not only in forming the development of broad policy but also in ensuring that the technical detail of the bill is correct. I would also like to record my appreciation for the work of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, in particular the chair, the member for Menzies, and the deputy chair, the member for Gellibrand. While the government has not accepted all of its recommendations, the committee's work has certainly resulted in significant changes to the bill as introduced.

Before turning to the issues raised during the debate on the bill, I wish to table a correction to the explanatory memorandum for the digital agenda bill. This correction will insert two new paragraphs into the explanatory memorandum to reflect a recommendation of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The correction will clarify that the enforcement measure provisions in the bill are not intended to operate so as to make computer system administrators liable when acting in the proper pursuit of their functions. Specifically, system administrators should not be liable for their activities if they do not result in an infringement of copyright and are within the scope of the permitted purposes exceptions in the bill.

Debate interrupted; adjournment proposed and negatived.

Mr WILLIAMS —I turn now to address three issues raised by honourable members during the debate on this bill. The member for the Northern Territory expressed concern that the exceptions in the bill would undermine the markets of copyright owners. However, the exceptions in the bill have been carefully crafted to ensure that the legitimate markets of copyright owners are encouraged whilst protecting the right of all Australians to have appropriate access to information. The digital agenda bill has recently been considered in the interim report of the Intellectual Property and Competition Review Committee chaired by Mr Henry Ergas. This committee has undertaken an extensive review of Australia's intellectual property laws in the light of competition principles. A large number of copyright interests have made submissions to the committee and provided evidence in proceedings. In the Ergas committee's view, the digital agenda provisions will not allow libraries to compete in the emerging market for the delivery of copyright material nor have the effect of destroying an emerging online market for articles and portions of works. In addition, the library exceptions are consistent with international developments. For example, the United States copyright act permits United States libraries to supply via electronic means `small portions' of material to users who make specific requests. The small portions that are typically communicated are chapters and articles similar to the `reasonable portions' that may be communicated under this bill. The extension of the library exceptions into the digital environment has been carefully crafted so as to prevent competition with emerging commercial markets. In recognition of the greater risk to copyright owners, the library exceptions have been far more narrowly applied to the digital environment.

The member for the Northern Territory also expressed particular concern about the impact of the bill on indigenous artists. As well as the new enforcement tools introduced by the bill, the government is working with cultural institutions on sensitive uses of indigenous material. The member for Calare who spoke just before I started expressed concern about the exclusion of private sector libraries from the exceptions under the Copyright Act. I can inform the honourable member that one of the government's amendments will implement the standing committee's recommendation that this issue be further considered at a later date. There are a number of proposed government amendments standing in my name—102, to be precise. For the most part, these amendments implement the government's response to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. This bill is a landmark in the government's ongoing agenda for copyright reform. I am pleased that the bill has obtained such broad support on both sides of the House. I commend the bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.