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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12792

Mr ANDREWS (12:57 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, I present the committee's advisory report on the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Bill 1999 , together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr ANDREWS —The introduction of digital technology has a major impact on many aspects of modern life, especially the enhanced communications of ideas and information. This report of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is the result of a brief but intense study of the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Bill 1999. The committee recognises that this bill presents the most significant amendments to Australia's copyright law since the passage of the Copyright Act 1968. Redefining the bundle of property rights that is copyright, in the context of emerging digital technologies, is a complex task. The committee endorses the stated aim of Australia's copyright legislation in seeking to support an appropriate balance between the competing public interests of promoting creative endeavour and allowing reasonable access to copyright material. The committee supports much of the bill as it was introduced to the parliament. However, the committee recommends some readjustments to the balance of interests, as suggested by the bill, because of the perceived increased risk of copyright infringement within a digital environment.

Evidence to the committee suggested that access which is reasonable in the print environment may not be reasonable in the digital environment. This is because the risk of unauthorised use of copyright material in the digital environment is far greater than in the print environment. As honourable members will appreciate, a digitised copy is, in effect, a mint copy of the original, able to be further reproduced easily. The committee believes that the digital environment cannot be likened to the print environment in all respects.

Some members of the committee advocated imposing strong restrictions on access to copyright material in digital form. However, for the purposes of this advisory report, the committee resolved that the same rights of access should apply to material in digital form as apply to material in print form. In order to protect copyright owners, however, the committee endorses the restriction on the right of copyright users to convert material into digital form in the first place.

The right to digitised material ought to be the exclusive right of the copyright owner, except in certain limited circumstances. The committee agreed that users may only digitise copyright material for the following purposes: firstly, criticism and review; secondly, reporting the news or judicial proceedings; and, thirdly, professional advice and preservation.

The committee also agreed that libraries could digitise material in their collections for the purposes of delivering it electronically to a user in a remote location where delivery of a print copy by post would be unreasonably slow. The decision to provide a work in a digital form should be the considered decision of the copyright owner. The committee considers that the ability to control the first digitisation of a work at the frontier between the print and digital environments is a fundamental principle that should be given special recognition under copyright law. The measures proposed in this report not only provide a statement of support for copyright owners but also recognise the special access needs of users.

Another change introduced by the bill affecting access to copyright material relates to the definition of `library'. The bill narrows the definition to exclude libraries conducted for profit. The committee has recommended that this proposed change be omitted from the bill. The committee has also examined the way in which the bill extends the scheme for the reproduction of copyright material by educational and other institutions to material in digital form. The committee concluded that the statutory licence scheme envisaged will work satisfactorily subject to some minor amendments.

Before concluding my remarks, I would like to thank the members of the committee for their contributions during the course of this inquiry and the finalisation of the report. The report is a testament to the committee's desire to aid the parliamentary process by resolving complex issues, often from widely divergent starting positions. In particular, I would like to extend the committee's thanks to the members of the secretariat of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, in particular our secretary, Claressa Surtees; the research officers on this report, Jennifer Cochran, Sara Cousins, Andrew Grimm and, for some time, Margus Karilaid; and the administrative officers, Jane Sweeney and Frances Wilson. I commend the report to the House.