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Is Australia backing away from 'fair use' proposals?

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As the Australian Law Reform Commission puts the final polish on its year-long inquiry into Australia's copyright law, the country's Attorney-General has upended the ice bucket over the idea of any radical reform.

The long-running inquiry had raised hopes that at least some reforms would be adopted, such as the creation of a “fair use” doctrine in Australia's current copyright law to replace the ageing “fair dealing” provisions that now exist.

The ALRC issued a discussion paper in June that set the “fair use” foxes running, stating: “In the ALRC's view, a fair use regime will: Employ technology-neutral legislative drafting; assist predictability in application; minimise unnecessary obstacles to an efficient market; and reduce transaction costs”. America's provisions were held up as a potential model for Australia to use.

That brought a hot response from the MPAA – yes, that's the Motion Picture Association of America – which complained that implementing the American system in Australia would create dangerous unpredictability and would disrupt the market for copyright material.

New Attorney-General George Brandis appears to be damping down such expectations. In a little-reported speech to the Australian Directors Guild Conference, he appears to be telling copyright liberalisers that he comes not to bring peace, but to bring a sword:

“Whatever form those reforms take, I want to assure you, following from the observations I’ve just made about my own attitudes to intellectual property protection, that those reforms will not impinge on or violate the rights of content creators and the owners of intellectual property. They will be designed to further secure and protect those rights”, he told the conference.

“The principles underlying intellectual property law and the values which acknowledge the rights of creative people are not a function of the platform on which that creativity is expressed. Those principles didn’t change with the invention of the internet and social media.

“Nevertheless, the rise of the internet and of social media and the digital age in general has placed those principles and the observance of those principles under new challenges and threats,” he concluded. ®

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