Published on 13 February 2014.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) today released the final report for its inquiry, Copyright and the Digital Economy. The ALRC was asked to consider whether current copyright exceptions are adequate and appropriate in the digital era.

The report recommends the introduction of fair use in Australia. Fair use is a defence to copyright infringement that essentially asks of any particular use: Is this fair? Fair use is found in a number of countries, notably the United States, and it builds on existing Australian laws that allow the fair use of copyright material for purposes such as research, study and reporting the news.

The Commissioner in charge of the inquiry, Professor Jill McKeough said, ‘Fair use is a flexible exception that can be applied to new technologies and services, which is crucial in the digital economy.’

‘Fair use can facilitate the public interest in accessing material, encourage new productive uses, and stimulate competition and innovation,’ Professor McKeough said.

‘But fair use also protects the interests of writers, musicians, film-makers, publishers and other rights holders. It was very important that in an inquiry about exceptions to copyright, we not lose sight of the purpose of copyright law.’

The report also recommends some specific exceptions, such as for libraries and archives to make preservation copies, for judicial proceedings and royal commissions, and for public access to certain documents lodged with government.

There are also reforms to encourage the use of ‘orphan works’—a wealth of copyright material that is neglected and wasted because rights holders cannot be found.

ALRC President Professor Rosalind Croucher said ‘The 30 recommendations in this report are designed to allow for a more principles-based and less prescriptive approach to copyright law. In a highly contested field, we have suggested reforms that will protect creators and their markets, provide appropriate access to material, simplify and modernise the law, and create a better environment for innovation and economic development.’

The report follows an 18 month inquiry, during which the ALRC produced two consultation documents, undertook over 100 consultations and received over 850 submissions. A number of industry roundtables were held and an advisory committee of experts met three times to provide comment and feedback on the ALRC’s work.

Professor Croucher thanked Professor McKeough for her work on this complex inquiry, and the hundreds of people who contributed through submissions and consultations.

The reportCopyright and the Digital Economy (Report 122, 2013)—and a summary report is available on the ALRC website. The report is also freely available as an ebook.