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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2740

Senator JACK EVANS(12.24) —I move:

Page 2, after clause 3, insert the following new clause:

'3A. Section 33 of the Principal Act is amended-

(a) by inserting after ''musical work'' in sub-section (2) ''other than a computer program''; and

(b) by inserting after sub-section (6) the following sub-section:

''(7) Copyright subsisting in a computer program by virtue of this Part continues to subsist until the expiration of 5 years after the expiration of the calendar year in which the computer program is first published.''.'.

The only concern that we have about this Bill relates to the fact that the copyright laws as they stand give copyright protection for periods of 50 or 75 years. This is a new industry, a new communications medium and a new concept. It has never been covered or protected before. It is imperative that we do not give people the impression that they will have that sort of protection and then, suddenly, in the next 18 months or two years, change the law so that the protection comes back to five years, which is a far more relevant period for this industry. I make that point particularly because the moment this legislation is proclaimed people will be paying royalties on computer programs and the fee for those royalties will be determined in part on the term of the copyright, the term of the protection. It will be far easier for the Government to start with a five-year protection period and expand that, if it feels that that is necessary, in its next legislation than it would be for it to start with 50 years and try to reduce it, having already allowed people to enter into a long term protective regime.

It will be important to free up important programs. Computer software is not like books and other items that are covered by the Copyright Act. Computer programs need to have the ability to be built on to. We must allow international competitiveness of Australian users. The protection needs to be there but we do not want a situation in which Australia is denied forever a copyrighted program which is imported by one user in this country who then restricts its distribution from that moment on. There must be some sort of avenue for an important scientific program, for example, to be able to be used at some time in the reasonably near future, or for other provisions to be written into future legislation which would provide for that.

The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) made it quite clear in his second reading speech that this Bill is explicitly aimed at resolving immediate problems. It is a short term measure and it provides immediate protection without prejudice to the development of the most appropriate long term solution. That prejudice is in fact there if we begin with 50 or 75-year protective terms.