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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12793


Ms ROXON (1:02 PM) —The tabling today of the advisory report on the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Bill 1999 from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is the result of a speedy yet detailed and challenging review of the proposed new copyright laws which attempt to bring the act up to date with the technological advances of recent times. Even before the mass use of computer technology, copyright law has been a difficult area, not just because of the technical questions to be addressed but because it is an area of law which seeks to balance a number of competing public interests. In general terms, copyright law is designed to protect the creator and owner of copyright from the world at large copying, using or profiting from the owner's creative endeavours unless proper payment is made. At the same time, the law has sought to recognise and balance the importance of public access to information for the purposes of public debate, learning and furthering the education and wellbeing of our nation as a whole.

With the technology boom in recent years, many—including me—have seen the great potential for information to become more widely available and more readily accessible in our community. Schools, libraries and families in low income areas like my electorate of Gellibrand and regional areas have been excited by the hope that the technology will provide a chance to overcome some inequities of the past. Nevertheless, access to information for individuals can be contrasted with larger scale use, copying and distribution, particularly with the intention of avoiding payment, and copyright owners have a legitimate interest in seeking to be paid for such uses. It is against this background that the committee has written its unanimous report aiming to strike an appropriate balance in light of quickly changing technology.

Although many witnesses sought to review the adequacy of existing copyright laws in meeting the competing interests of owners and users, the committee largely focused on new questions that arose as a result of changing technology rather than use this as an opportunity to revisit more general concerns. There are other reviews on foot that will more appropriately address these questions. With some exceptions, as the chairman, the member for Menzies, has already pointed out, the committee concluded that the existing laws that apply in the print environment should also apply in the digital environment; that is, reproducing print material in print form and reproducing digital material in digital form should largely be covered by the same rules with reasonable portions being able to be used for specific purposes such as research and study, and that a statutory licence scheme in educational institutions be extended to cover such usage. The committee was, however, alive to the ease with which reproductions can be made with new technology and to the quality of such reproductions.

By maintaining similar rules for the print environment serious concerns have been raised about the risk of abusing current exemptions. While the potential clearly exists, from my point of view no convincing evidence was presented about abuse under the current exceptions such as by students, universities or libraries. The desire for libraries, for example, to set up to provide illicit competition to publishers seemed fanciful. Nevertheless, the concerns are there because the potential exists and is growing exponentially with new technological developments.

The chairman has already touched on the committee's recommendation with respect to the right of first digitisation and an owner being able to control such digitisation of his or her work. It is hoped that such control will protect copyright owners to some extent from exploitation of this new medium of electronic communication. Whilst this right is proposed to be exclusive to the owner with very few narrow exemptions, an important exemption is proposed which will allow libraries to scan and email material to regional users who would otherwise not be able to access information within a reasonable time. This compromise recognises an important aim to ensure that new technology benefits all Australians, not just those in metropolitan areas.

The committee's recommendations as a whole mean that industry participants will have to commercially negotiate the terms and uses for material in digital form. Evidence before us showed that this is already occurring with licence arrangements between publishers and libraries, for example, but they will become more central. In my view, creators, publishers, libraries and educational institutions will all have an additional responsibility to ensure that their commercial negotiations adequately protect their interests in the new environment. I would encourage library representatives to ensure that they can present views on behalf of the whole library sector including community libraries, not only the major public and state institutions. Practical considerations may well be different. Students and user groups should also be encouraged to be more actively involved.

Copyright owners, particularly authors, often complain about copyright laws preventing them from obtaining adequate remuneration. However, evidence was not presented, despite requests, of the loss that authors were suffering rather than publishers, who I suspect are commonly the copyright owners after publication and feel most aggrieved by unpaid uses of copyright material. Creators when negotiating and assigning rights to a publisher must be mindful of the new market for their works. Publishers will, as they already do, take into account such uses when striking appropriate terms with libraries, universities and schools. (Time expired)