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Thursday, 11 May 2017
Page: 3425


Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (13:55): Like our media laws, Australia's copyright laws are antiquated and reforms are very much long overdue. The current laws have failed to keep up with changing technology, which has rendered them clumsy and means they no longer act as intended—to balance the best interests of all parties. We are making a start with the measures in this bill to redress what has essentially evolved into a discriminatory circumstance where copyrighted works cannot be altered into user-friendly formats for sight and hearing impaired people. The primary purpose of this bill is to put in place measures to improve access to copyright material for people with a disability. It will essentially require rights holders to grant an exception and allow their work to be communicated or copied into accessible formats by universities, schools and libraries or by people wanting them for personal use if they do not already exist in a commercially available format. This is in accordance with the Marrakesh treaty that Australia ratified in 2015.

This is a necessary change to end the type of charade where a teacher cannot make a captioned version of a video for hearing impaired students in the class for fear of breaching copyright or where a school cannot provide a large-print version of required reading material in a timely way because it has to go through the cumbersome and costly processes of seeking permission from the copyright holder. It is very much a silly and discriminatory situation and we are happy this wrong will be made right through this long-overdue legislation. The bill will also allow authorised bodies such as libraries to make copies of works in order to preserve them without waiting for them to deteriorate first.

But we still need to go further—much further—to address the lingering copyright loopholes and failures that are inadvertently creating an uneven playing field for schools and businesses. If we look around the world, other jurisdictions are already moving on this. The European Commission has proposed to bolster the position of rights holders, such as newspapers and musicians, to negotiate fair remuneration for their content with online platforms such as Google, Facebook and YouTube. We have seen in the past week Fairfax journalists strike over massive looming redundancies. This is one of the consequences of the failure of copyright and competition laws to keep up with rapidly changing online commerce, where online platforms reappropriate or give users open slather to shared copyright content, often with impunity. Media companies in particular are being challenged on all sides. Australian media businesses do not need to prop up Google and Facebook's multibillion dollar businesses for free. Competition is fair enough, but the current situation, where these duopolies cannibalise traditional media content and profit from it without paying fair compensation, while also taking the lion's share of advertising revenue, has to stop.

Australia certainly should consider the European Commission's proposals made last year to update and harmonise their copyright laws. Its proposal included a range of copyright reforms, including measures to facilitate digital access to published works by the vision impaired, consistent with the Marrakesh treaty, to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled, as this bill does. But, most significantly, it has proposed forcing online platforms to pay fairly for the content they host or allow to be shown via their platforms. It has put forward measures to improve the position of rights holders to negotiate and be remunerated for the exploitation of their content by online services which give access to user-uploaded content. Its proposal also contains new transparency rules so authors and performers can be confident that they are getting a fair bite of the revenue that online platforms generate from sharing their work. The European Commission's scheme also acknowledges the unique situation of media publishers and the fact that, to remain sustainable, they need to be able to enforce their right to recoup their share of earnings from the online platforms which appropriate—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Griff, you will be in continuation. It being 2 pm, we will now move to questions without notice.