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News March 27, 2017

Music & tech sectors respond as Australian Government drops safe harbour

Following a campaign by the Australian music industry and the media, the Federal Government dropped safe harbour provisions for the time being from its Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill 2017.

A statement from Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, explained, “Provisions relating to safe harbour were removed from the Bill before its introduction to enable the Government to further consider feedback received on this proposal whilst not delaying the passage of other important reforms.”

Safe harbour rules protect internet companies from liability for copyright infringement by users, provided they have a takedown system which allows copyright owners from demanding that the infringements be removed.

The Government intended to introduce safe harbour rules in line with those of the United States and the European Union, but content owners and other industry advocatesargued it had proven controversial in these territories. The European Union is, in fact, considering moves to amend safe harbours so that user upload sites like YouTube no longer have that protection.

They also protested that safe harbours had not received the same public consultation that other proposals in the bill had. It is now calling for this before safe harbour goes back on the table down the track.

ARIA’s Sydney-based CEO Dan Rosen told The Australian: “It is very important that the Government now directs the Department Of Communications to have a full, independent and evidence-based review of the safe harbour scheme and its impact on Australia’s digital markets.”

Reaction from the tech industry was quick and sharp.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation claimed the Government had “squandered” the opportunity to bring Australian laws in line with the US and Europe and “it’s Australian innovators, libraries, educational institutions, and their users who will suffer”.

“We urge the Australian government to look beyond the copyright lobby to the broad sectors of Australian society who have expressed support for this important reform, and to reintroduce it at the earliest opportunity.”

Startup advocacy group StartupAUS called a “blow to Australian entrepreneurs”: “A copyright safe harbour regime would facilitate greater innovation and creativity in Australia by providing a mechanism for online platforms to deal with user-generated copyright infringement issues quickly and fairly.”

Its CEO Alex McCauley protested, “Australia’s copyright laws have still not caught up with the realities of the internet. As a result, the laws still struggle to provide clarity and protection for organisations doing business online.”

Minister Fifield said, “These copyright reforms will support efforts to grow Australia’s economy through innovation, improved competition and creativity. The Bill will enable people with a disability to enjoy fair access to copyright material in formats suitable to their individual needs.

“This reflects the Government’s commitment to improving accessibility to published material for persons with a disability following the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, which entered into force on 30 September 2016.

“The Bill includes measures to make it easier for students and educators to use copyright material in the digital education environment, for example, conducting exams online. Educational institutions and copyright collecting societies will have the flexibility to develop their own agreements for use of copyright material, instead of being constrained by prescriptive regulation.

“The Bill will protect Australia’s cultural heritage and ensure that it is available for future generations.

“Libraries and archives will have greater flexibility in how they undertake their preservation functions, and in providing greater access to and use of unpublished material that is historic and culturally valuable.

“This Bill is an important next step in the Government’s plans to work collaboratively with stakeholders to modernise copyright law.”

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