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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 768

Senator DURACK(3.19) —I welcome the statement that has just been incorporated in Hansard by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) on behalf of the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen). As he said, it is the Government's response to the report of the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on the very difficult question of audiovisual copying by educational institutions. The initiative for this exercise in fact came from an amendment which I moved on behalf of the Opposition during a debate on an amendment to the Copyright Act. Last year we debated the Copyright Amendment Bill which contained a number of amendments which I do not need to go into. The Opposition was concerned, and indeed I have been concerned for many years, with the problem educational institutions have in copying audiovisual material for the purposes of teaching at schools.

We are all aware, and have been for many years, of the growing importance of the audio-visual field in education, particularly the importance of the use of television and special broadcasts for teaching purposes. For some time there has been provision in the Copyright Act for recording sound broadcasts made for educational purposes. In the past schools have perhaps made more use of that facility than has been fully justified, and that is one reason why there has been a need for adequate amendments to be made to the Copyright Act-to cover this very clear teaching need, which has not been properly addressed in the Act simply because the Act has not kept up to date with modern technology.

Some years ago another great deficiency was exposed, namely, the problem with the widespread use of photocopying, particularly in tertiary institutions. That matter was addressed when the Opposition was in government. A scheme for the statutory right of the photocopying by students of material which was required and widely used was set up. Until that scheme was provided the Act was widely breached. The problem was addressed by the Fraser Government in major amendments to the Copyright Act which were made in 1981 and which I had the task of piloting through the Parliament.

At about the same time it became clear to me as Attorney-General that the audiovisual copying area required attention. I set in train-I cannot remember in which year-the Attorney-General's Department's audiovisual review. That review apparently is continuing because various references are made to it in the reply from the Government. The amendment, which was proposed by me last year on behalf of the Opposition, did not propose a detailed scheme of that kind because we did not have the necessary facilities. In order to push along the debate on this issue and to get the Government to move on it-it seemed to be singularly slow in doing so-I moved an amendment to the Act which was referred by the Senate to the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts. This is a very good example of the value of this Senate as a House of review in that the problem was perceived by the Senate and, if I remember correctly, the reference to that Senate Committee was made with the agreement of the Government. It certainly was supported by the Australian Democrats.

Senator Colston —The Government agreed.

Senator DURACK —I thought it did. We have now had a very valuable report from the Senate Committee which has found deficiencies in the amendment that I moved. I readily concede that the amendment had a number of deficiencies. It was not exactly moved off the cuff but it was clear that we did not have the facilities to develop all the sorts of amendments required to implement a scheme such as the Senate Committee has recommended. The Senate Committee has had the advantage of advice from the Attorney-General's Department. It turned out that the Attorney-General's Department had been doing quite a lot of work to develop the scheme which the Committee has adopted and recommended. I am pleased that the Government is going to act on the Committee's recommendation. It amazes me that the Government had not made better use of the work done by the Attorney-General's Department. As I have said, I initiated the audiovisual review by the Department, which has been going on now for well over four years. One would have thought that a scheme would have been sufficiently worked out for the Government to have included it in the amendments to the Copyright Bill which it introduced last year; but it did not do so. It is a matter of some surprise to me that the work of the departments was not pushed along a bit better and that the Government was not in a position to do anything about it until now, after the report of the Committee. As a result of the needle that the Government has got from the Committee's work, something at last will be done about it. I hope that the Government will not delay any further in getting the legislation drafted and getting it into this Parliament, because I believe that it will be very well received by the Parliament. I cannot speak officially for the Opposition until we have seen the legislation, but I fully applaud the general principle. I am very pleased that the Committee has recommended along those lines.

The precedent for this type of solution to the problem, where there are conflicting interests of educationalists and copyright owners, is the photocopying legislation. Pioneering work has already been done in the photocopying field and it is acknowledged by the Government that there are administrative problems in that photocopying legislation. I am not surprised, because it is a very complicated piece of legislation. I hope that that experience has shown that it can be administered in a more reasonable manner. I hope that the legislation which comes before us will reflect the experience that has been obtained and will get rid of the bugs that have no doubt developed with that photocopying scheme. The Government has said that it expects this to be done in a more simple way than the photocopying legislation, but it seems to me, from the remarks made by the Attorney-General, that the Government is following more or less the same lines as the photocopying scheme. Other options seem to be available and maybe the Government will make it work better. There is some inevitability about cumbersome records having to be kept and I will be interested to see how the Government will overcome that, especially as it has indicated that this will be one means of enabling adequate payment to be made to copyright owners.

There is one other matter in this statement which a great many people will be concerned about and will give very great attention to. It appears that the audiovisual review that has been taking place for some years is likely to propose a royalty on blank tapes as a method of overcoming the problem of home copying. I hope that that will be noted and that proper and lengthy public discussion will take place about that, because it is a matter which is fraught with very grave difficulties and large numbers of people will be quite worried about it. The Government has said that the departments are having consultations with copyright owners-naturally they will want something like this-and consumer organisations, which I suppose are the consumer groups the Government seems to so favour at the moment, as well as arts groups, blank tape manufacturers and importers, retail and user groups and educationalists who may be exempt from the levy.

The Government would be wise to listen to the ordinary owners of audiovisual material and machines and to consider how the average person will react to the suggestion that a royalty will have to be paid on every blank tape purchased for the purpose of copying for home use, particularly bearing in mind the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of America a year or two ago which said, as I understand it, that home copying was not a breach of copyright. I express no firm personal view on it; nor do I speak on behalf of the Opposition; but I think that the suggestions in this statement about the likelihood of a royalty being imposed by this Government on blank tapes is something of which the electorate at large should take note. Apart from that, the statement is promising. I only hope that the Government will move more quickly in implementing this very sensible scheme than it has done so far.