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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2408

(Question No. 880)


Senator Bolkus asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 8 May 1984:

(1) Has the Attorney-General considered the need for wide-ranging public debate to precede legislation regulating the copyright of software, given the enormous practical difficulties in enforcing such laws.

(2) What is the Attorney-General's attitude to funding the development of an Australian computer software industry given that computer software in Australia is currently all overseas owned.

(3) What are the implications of computer software copyright laws on schools and other education institutions.


Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) As I explained in my second reading speech on the Copyright Amendment Bill 1984, introduced on 4 June, the Bill was prepared in the light of numerous public submissions and of discussions at the national Symposium held on 15-16 March 1984. This legislation, which came into force on 15 June 1984, clarifies and strengthens the copyright protection afforded to computer programs under the Copyright Act 1968 in the light of industry concern and uncertainty as to its scope. The Full Federal Court in Apple Computers v Computer Edge had earlier ruled that the Act already applied to computer software. That ruling has now gone on further appeal to the High Court. It is possible that the appeal will involve consideration of issues concerning the effect of the amended legislation as well as of the effect of the Act as it stood before the amendments.

I made it very clear in introducing the Bill that it was intended to operate as a short term measure and that the Government would proceed as a matter of high priority to a consideration of policy for the long term through an appropriate enquiry.

That enquiry will provide an opportunity for full public debate and public input in the consideration of long term policy on the issue of copyright protection for computer software.

(2) This portion of the question relates largely to matters within the portfolio responsibility of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Senator Button provides the following answer:

'There is substantial development of computer software in Australia by computer companies, independent software houses as well as companies primarily engaged in other activities. The ownership of locally developed software depends upon the ownership of the firm developing the software as well as the contractual arrangements between the developer and the client where software is produced for a particular client. Although there is no statistical information to quantify the ownership of computer software a large proportion is developed and owned by Australian owned and controlled enterprises.

The Government has already introduced a number of measures which will improve the availability of finance to the local computer software industry. These include-

the extension of industrial research and incentives to specifically cover software developed independently of computer hardware

the encouragement of a venture finance market in Australia

changes to the Australian Industry Development Corporation that have improved its ability to finance investment in areas such as computer software.

Recognising the extent of development of computer software in Australia it would not be feasible or desirable for the Government to fund computer software development across the board.'

(3) The implications of computer software copyright laws for schools and other educational institutions are appropriate matters for consideration by the enquiry into long term policy for computer software protection which the Government is committed to holding.

Without pre-empting the issues which might be considered by that enquiry I note that, as a 'literary work' under the Copyright Act, a 'computer program' may not , for example, be copied or adapted without the copyright owner's permission. Limited exceptions to the copying prohibition are 'back-up copying' (section 43A ) and fair dealing for the purposes of (amongst other things) research or study (section 40).

Educational interests have stressed the need for legislation which is clear and easy for teachers to observe, and which facilitates ease of access to copyright material without burdensome costs and requirements to keep extensive records. These are considerations which the enquiry for the long term undoubtedly will take into account.