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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12794


Ms JULIE BISHOP (1:07 PM) —Back in 1995, Nicholas Negroponte, the director of the media laboratory at MIT, wrote a very entertaining contemplative book entitled Being Digital . At one point he lamented that copyright law was so totally out of date that it could be likened to a Gutenberg artefact. He suggested that, as it was a reactive process, for it to apply to the digital world, it would probably have to break down completely before it could be corrected to deal with the dramatic changes that have, and will, occur as a result of the world being digital.

I suspect that at times during our deliberations the committee felt the same way, that the task of amending, or modifying or re-working copyright laws—laws established and applied in an analogue world, with print medium—with a view to applying traditional copyright concepts and philosophies to the new technologies, with the seemingly endless possibilities for change that the digital environment opens up, was altogether too hard. The temptation for me was to suggest we scrap the Copyright Act altogether and start again with a blank screen.

Fortunately, that has not been necessary. I pay tribute to the chairman, the deputy chair and the secretariat for their exceptional commitment to the whole exercise. The committee reviewed the bill in some considerable detail and, in supporting much of the bill, recognises that it is an extensive attempt to ensure Australia is at the forefront of online copyright reform. After reading numerous submissions and hearing evidence, and considering the merits of some quite eloquent and persuasive arguments during the roundtable sessions, the committee has made a number of recommendations in its report—some substantial, others less so—that it hopes will enhance the operation of the legislation.

The committee was conscious that the legislation is to apply in the rapidly developing technological world of the 21st century. As the Attorney said in his second reading speech:

This extraordinary pace of development threatens the delicate balance which has existed between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of copyright users.

The central aim of the bill therefore is to ensure that copyright law continues to promote creative endeavour and, at the same time, allow reasonable access to copyright information in the digital environment.

This is indeed a delicate balance. In the old environment most people worried about copyright in terms of the ease of making copies. In the digital world not only the ease is at issue but also the fact that the digital copy is as perfect as the original and, with some clever computing, even better. A copy can be cleaned up, it can be enhanced and it can have noise removed. The copy is perfect.

But in the digital world it is not just a matter of copying being easier and copies more faithful. When I read something in a book or a magazine and, like a clipping from a newspaper, wish to send a copy of it to somebody else or to a mailing list of people this is harmless enough. But if I read something on the Internet, with less than a dozen key strikes I could redeliver that material to literally thousands of people all over the planet.

In the irrational economics of the Internet, it costs me nothing to do so. It seems that Internet use is practically free—nobody has a clear idea of who pays for what. But even if this were to change in the future—with some rational economic model overlaid on the Internet—it would still only cost a fraction to distribute millions of words or images or sounds to millions of people. Certainly it would cost nothing like postage or fax or couriers.

The committee was aware that the new technologies bring a whole new suite of questions to issues of copyright. The committee is totally supportive of the proposed review of the legislation after three years. Experience will be the key to the success of a number of the legislative changes and certainly to the recommendations of the committee.

The notion of first digitisation is perhaps the most radical departure from the bill. The bill provides that existing exceptions for the copy material in the print environment be carried over to the digital environment. The committee was persuaded to the view that in certain circumstances one cannot simply equate digital technology with photocopying. Hence, the committee's recommendation that, where there is to be a conversion of copyright material from print to digital, the copyright owner must be able to consent to that process—except in the limited circumstances set out in recommendation 1. The exceptions for print-to-print copying and for digital-to-digital copying remain.

Time does not permit expansion on the detail of the report—suffice to say that the committee believes its recommendations will improve the operation of the bill, having had the opportunity in some instances, such as the issue concerning definition of library in recommendation 2, to understand more of the consequences of proposed changes—(Time expired)