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Setting the Record Straight

The facts about safe harbours

Setting the
Record Straight

The future of Australian innovation depends on modern copyright laws that reflect the digital age. The Australian Government is considering amending the safe harbour provisions in the Copyright Act so that they apply to schools, universities, libraries, cultural institutions and technology platforms.

More than 20 organisations from across a diverse range of sectors have called for this important reform.

This is a straightforward change that has been recommended by successive independent reviews since 2005.

What are safe harbours?

Australia’s copyright laws contain a simple process for dealing with online copyright infringement. This process is commonly referred to as “safe harbours”, because it provides legal protection for internet service providers in exchange for them helping copyright owners enforce their rights online.

The system works by:

  • allowing copyright owners to send takedown notices asking for infringing copies of their content online to be removed;
  • incentivising innocent service providers to take quick and effective action to remove any infringing content from their networks or services in exchange for limiting their liability for any infringements by their users;
  • protecting consumers by giving them the right to challenge a takedown notice (for example, to claim the content is their own, or that they have a legitimate right to use the content) by sending a counter notice.

Due to a drafting error in our copyright laws, Australia’s safe harbours only apply to commercial ISPs like Telstra, iiNet and Optus and not to all providers of internet services like schools, universities, libraries, cultural institutions and technology platforms.

What change is proposed and what will it mean in practice?

The amendment being proposed would simply replace the term “carriage service provider” with the term “service provider” to legally protect all service providers, not just telcos. There will be no risk to the income of Australian copyright owners, including authors, publishers, artists, musicians and photographers. There will also be greater incentives for all internet service providers and copyright owners to work together to fight piracy locally in Australia.

Why are safe harbours so important for public libraries, schools & unis?

Public libraries are a critical provider of internet services, especially to students, the elderly and the 19% of Australians that do not have access to the internet at home. For these Australians, a library is their primary source of internet access. Libraries also play a key role in online literacy education. Similarly, universities and schools provide internet services for staff and students. For example, Australian universities provide Internet access to more than one million students and more than 100,000 academic staff. Australian schools and universities are increasingly expected to innovate in teaching and industry collaboration via the various opportunities created by the internet. However, libraries, schools and universities do not have the same legal protections as commercial ISPs when they provide internet access to Australians as part of their service to the community. Government and non-government schools, Universities Australia, and universities such as the Australian Catholic University, the Australian National University, Macquarie University, La Trobe University, Southern Cross University, as well as the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) and National and State Libraries Australia (NASLA) support this reform.

Why is there opposition to safe harbours reform?

Despite the clear benefits to Australia of the safe harbour reforms, some people claim that these changes will hurt Australian creators. The organisations supporting these changes to safe harbours are strong supporters of copyright and the right of Australian creators to be fairly rewarded for the use of their works.

What’s wrong with the current laws?

Under the current laws:

  • internet services provided by public libraries, schools or universities, and Australian online platforms like Redbubble or 99 Designs have a greater risk of being sued for any copyright infringements by people using their services;
  • Australians who access the internet using these types of internet services do not have the same legal rights to challenge takedown notices as the customers of commercial ISPs, or of people who use those services in other countries; and
  • copyright owners do not have a simple process in Australia to get infringing copies of their content removed from online.

The current laws also mean that Australia is out of step with international best practice in Europe, the UK, the US, South Korea and Singapore.

Why are safe harbours so important for consumers?

It is unfair that people who use internet services provided by public libraries, schools and universities receive fewer legal protections than the customers of commercial ISPs or people overseas. Consumers also stand to lose if providers of internet services, who don’t have adequate legal protections, decide it is too risky to continue providing these services – particularly when it is often the most disadvantaged Australians who need to use the internet services provided by public libraries, for example.

Why will safe harbours make Australia a safer place to innovate?

The benefits of reforming the safe harbours is particularly important for Australian startups. Because our copyright laws are so out of step with our major trading partners who have appropriate safe harbours, including the US, the UK, the EU, Israel, South Korea, Singapore and Japan, there is greater incentive to innovate overseas where startups have proper protections. This also puts Australian startups at a disadvantage to overseas businesses. That’s why this reform is supported by Australian startups like Redbubble, 99 Designs and Canva, and the startup industry peak body StartupAUS.

How can I influence change?

Personalised letters are one of the most effective ways of raising matters of importance with your local Member of Parliament (MP). The more letters an MP receives from voters in their electorate on a particular issue, the more likely he or she will take action.

Click the ‘Email Your MP’ tab in the header of this page to find your local Parliamentary representatives, and write them a letter using the template provided.



Google, tech firms at odds with content creators over Australian copyright safe harbour ruling

Australian Financial Review


Australian tech start-ups stand to lose out in proposed copyright reforms

The Conversation


Copyright reforms miss the mark



Safe harbour delay divides sector



Copyright reform is free and effective: Startup Aus

Australian Financial Review


Government plans further safe harbour talks as industry waits.

Australian Financial Review


Redbubble chief Martin Hosking: Without copyright safe harbour, Pinterest and Reddit would’ve been “sued out of existence” if they started in Australia



Redbubble seeks a safe harbour.

The Australian

Contact Your Local MP

Click below to find your local MP, and write them a letter based on the template provided to get your voice heard.

Email Your MP