Australia’s libraries and archives support fair use

21 Dec 2016

Without a flexible fair use exception new uses are illegal by default.

The Australian Libraries Copyright Committee (ALCC) welcomes the recommendation of the Productivity Commission to adopt a flexible fair use exception in Australia.

Australia’s libraries and archives believe that we should strive for a world class copyright system which facilitates uses that are beneficial to society as long as they don’t harm copyright owners. This will never be the case while we rely on rigid exceptions that make new uses illegal by default. Without fair use, the Australian copyright system will always have gaps, always be trying to catch up with new technologies and behaviours.

In this rigid copyright environment, libraries are highly constrained in making innovative use of their collections. Individuals can choose to ‘run the gauntlet’ of restrictive copyright laws, but libraries and archives cannot – they must stick with what the law says. This means that high priority projects that have the potential to provide significant benefits for society – such as digitisation, interpretation and collaboration projects, and text and data mining – just don’t happen. Large portions of our collections sit, untouched, because the copyright owner is long gone and cannot be contacted for permission, and the legal risks make their use impossible.

It is these issues that the Productivity Commission seeks to address in its IP Arrangements Inquiry report. The ALCC welcomes its recommendations to allow room in our copyright system for all uses that are fair, rather than privileging some uses and users above others.

The ALCC also supports the report’s recommendations to:

  • extend Australia’s existing safe harbour provision to all online service providers, including libraries;
  • protect copyright exceptions from being overridden by contract and technological protection measures;
  • limit liability for the use of orphan works; and
  • provide open access to government funded research.

The ALCC also applauds the Commission’s endorsement of the Government’s proposal to abolish perpetual copyright in unpublished works. Although we are disappointed this is no longer an explicit recommendation of the report, we join the Commission in urging the Government to implement the proposed changes in the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill without delay.

These recommendations will transform Australia’s copyright system into a world leader, respecting creators and ensuring they are protected, while also recognising the importance of access and flexibility for all of society.

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