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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Under the current laws:
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.
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.
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.
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.