Podcast: ALRC intern interview – Christopher Stackpoole, Penelope Swales and Kiri McEwan

Christopher Stackpoole, Penelope Swales and Kiri McEwan took part in the 2013 summer legal internship program at the ALRC, working on the Copyright and the Digital Economy inquiry. In this recording they talk about their experiences, tasks they performed, and what they learned as ALRC legal interns.


Marie-Claire Muir (MCM): Hi. I’m Marie-Claire Muir. I’m the Communications Manager at the Australian Law Reform Commission. I’m talking today with three interns who have been with us full time for three weeks for the summer legal internship program. The summer program differs from the internships in Semesters 1 and 2 in that it during university holiday periods, which means students are able to work with us full time instead of just one day a week spread out over a longer period. It also means we are able to get students in from a range of universities and law schools around Australia. So today, on their final day with us, our interns are Christopher Stackpoole who’s studying law and business at QUT; we have Kiri McEwan, who’s in her final year of Arts Law at ANU; and Penelope Swales at Monash University, completing a BA in Arts Law.

So, the three of you have all been working on Copyright and the Digital Economy inquiry. I’m interested to know about why you were interested in interning for the ALRC: was it because you had a particular interest in copyright, or is your interest in law reform more generally?

Christopher Stackpoole (CS): Well I personally haven’t studied intellectual property law yet, but I have a very strong interest, and a keen interest within copyright law. It provides me with a good understanding, I suppose, with how the institution of copyright works within our society today, and law reform generally is a very interesting topic and of course a field of law that requires considerable legal expertise and has considerable worth throughout Australia.

Penelope Swales (PS): My interest is in public interest law generally, so I was specifically attracted to the law reform side of things. Also just interested in the organisation as it has a very long history and a quite illustrious history, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time as a student with my head down and my bum up buried in the various reports of the Australian Law Reform Commission so, yeah, I guess part of it for me was just the curiosity of wanting to see how the organisation works. Both the inquiries that are currently running were of interest to me personally on different levels: Copyright because I’m a musician, and Age Barriers to Work because I’m 43! So I would have been happy to work on either of them, but Copyright certainly has been pretty interesting.

Kiri McEwan (KM): Well I came to the Australian Law Reform Commission intern program mainly focused on my interest in law reform in particular. I really wanted to come into the internship program to focus on and understand the processes that the Law Reform Commission goes through and really have an insider perspective of how the inquiry is undertaken. I also thought the Copyright inquiry itself would be a particularly interesting inquiry to work on because it’s a very controversial area of law and one that’s going to be important in coming years as we adapt to new technologies in Australia and try to ensure that we remain competitive globally.

MCM: Great. And so without having much of a background in copyright law, has that been tough? I mean I guess also if I can get you to talk about what kinds of tasks you’ve been doing, and how that’s worked out for you … in terms of learning curve…?

CS: Yep, yeah, I understand the question. So, I suppose coming here without a background in intellectual property law made it slightly more challenging than for a person who would ordinarily have studied the field, however our first project that we undertook was analysing the various submissions that had been made to the Australian Law Reform Commission for the purpose of distilling a set of core guiding principles which could be utilised for the inquiry for the purposes of developing the discussion paper further. Now, this provided us with a bit of a crash course, in particular with the policy issues surrounding intellectual property law and copyright law specifically. So that was a very fascinating exercise and provided us with a lot of the background knowledge required to undertake our further projects. Now we probably didn’t require extensive knowledge of the copyright law specifically, because a lot of what we worked on was policy. So we were dealing with issues of technological neutrality and, for example, the balancing of public interest and private issues surrounding the orphan works issues within Australia and the US. So yeah, it was a very interesting field and I don’t feel as though my lack of background in intellectual property law significantly disadvantaged me.

KM: I actually thought it was very positive, personally, to come into an inquiry that I hadn’t studied in-depth before I came, because I think it gave an insight into the role that many of the legal officers have to undertake, in that often they work on multiple inquiries that they haven’t had extensive professional experience in themselves and it’s a big process of learning and understanding the issues involved. And in terms of the work we did as interns, often it involved very specific aspects of the Copyright Act, very specific exceptions, how particular stakeholders in the community are responding to those specific exceptions and proposals for change. So although general information and knowledge of copyright would be beneficial, I think most of the learning was going to happen on the job no matter how much preparation you had.

PS: Yeah, I figured if the ALRC wanted people that had done IP at uni they would have chosen people who’d done IP at uni, so I figured I got the gig so it wouldn’t be too much of a handicap, um, a lot like Chris was saying before, a lot of the work we did in the first week was conceptual. It was looking at what the guiding principles for law reform should be, and looking at what stakeholders had said. And there’s a wide variety of people with a wide variety of very strongly held opinions, so that was very interesting, but not actually having studied the mechanics of the Copyright Act wasn’t a problem with that. For me, I was mostly delving into legislation in other countries, so I was looking at the UK, I was looking at New Zealand, so, you know, I didn’t really know any more about their Acts that I knew about our Act really, so there was no disadvantage there. And also a lot of it was about distilling the information that’s in the submissions into a concise form for people for quick reference. So, it doesn’t seem to have been a big problem, and there are certainly people around who can explain any bits that you’re confused about.

MC: And were you guys able to go on any consultations?

CS: Yes

MC: Yes? And how did you find that process?

CS: Yeah, the consultation process … well, while we were here we were very fortunate because we had a number of different consultations. I think we ended up attending maybe about six … seven maybe, which is an exceptional opportunity to have. And when we were here, we were able to sit in on some of the consultations. I know that Penelope had the opportunity to be able to go to the ABC, so, to attend an external consultation, but it provided us with a good understanding as to how the Australian Law Reform Commission manages their stakeholders and interacts with their stakeholders, which is an essential component of evidence based law reform, of course. And it provided us with a better understanding as to how to directly deal with individuals in the context of law reform, and how to ask the correct questions to extract the information from them necessary to structure the reform of law and specifically in copyright law throughout Australia.

KM: I particularly enjoyed the consultation process and the consultations we were able to attend, because I think it shows a very different aspect of the Commission’s role with stakeholders, because often all the public is aware of is the submissions that turn up on the ALRC website in response to the Issues Paper or Discussion Paper. Whereas seeing the Commission, or members of the Commission, interact with stakeholders in consultations is a lot more interactive, and the Commission has an opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the issues that were effecting particular stakeholders that maybe didn’t come across very well in their responses to the submission—or were raised in response to the Issues Paper, sorry—or were raised and that the Commission thought it was worth delving a bit further into before we go into the Discussion Paper. I just thought that was a very interesting aspect of the Commission’s role that probably isn’t available to the public very much.

PS: I’d pretty much echo what the previous two said. It was certainly very interesting to watch how those consultations are conducted. And there’s a line that’s got to be walked between not, sort of, raising expectations amongst the stakeholders, but also being an avid listener to anything those stakeholders have to say that might bare on anything really, on the general understanding. I think it’s been interesting watching the way those consultations have informed and illuminated the understanding of the Commission as they went along. So they’ll go into a particular consultation and become aware of an issue that wasn’t previously salient and maybe come to one of us and go, “can you have a look and see if anybody else is having this problem? Can you back through the submissions and see if there’s a thread here that we need to address?” That consultative process is, I think, really valuable and it’s a privilege to witness that, because, you know, you can’t just walk in off the street and see that sort of stuff.

MC: Yeah. I mean, I have to say I think you were very lucky getting to go to seven of them. In terms of what we can offer to interns, it sometimes just depends on what stage of the inquiry they’re with us for. You know, the inquiry has different phases and you’ve obviously been here during a phase where we’ve been doing a lot of face-to-face consultations, so that’s great. It sounds like that was probably a bit of a highlight, I would imagine. Are there any other particular things that stand out for you as favourite aspects of the internship, or highlights?

PS:  Oh, I got to draft a bit of a chapter of the Discussion Paper, that was pretty exciting.

MC: Wow!

PS: Yeah. Whether or not it will make the final cut or not is another matter, but it was exciting to do that.

MC: Well, whether it makes the final cut or not … sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like it won’t—it may well, your names will go into the front pages of the Discussion Paper and the Final Report for the assistance that you’ve given the team.

PS: Ah, fame and fortune at last. [Both laugh.]

KM: I was actually … Chris and I in particular, in the morning were able to attend a meeting with the President and a couple of the legal officers in the final drafting of what regulations, or the direction and wording that the regulations, were going to be going in …

PS: [interrupting] … “recommendations”

KM: Oh, ”recommendations”—sorry, I don’t even know what I said [laughing]. I think that’s the Discussion Paper … And it was just a really interesting dynamic to witness, I think. And in addressing it’s important how the Commission is very conscious of how it phrases its recommendations and the practicality of implementing those recommendations …

MC:  [interrupting] Sorry … is this for Copyright? Or for the Age Barriers inquiry?

KM: Oh. This is for the Age Barriers inquiry. Sorry, let’s be very specific. We’re in a very different stage for the Age Barriers inquiry than the Copyright inquiry. And I just thought it was very interesting, and something that I hadn’t thought of … the thought and consideration that goes into the specific wording and phrasing of recommendations to ensure that they’re accessible and practical and easy to understand.

CS: One of the reasons why I’d most highly and unreservedly recommend the ALRC internship to any other potential interns that might be interested in law reform is that we get to deal with a lot of issues that you wouldn’t typically be able to deal with throughout the course of your law degree. For example throughout law you focus on identifying issues and of course discussing the law and applying it to the factual scenario and reaching a conclusion. However, at the Australian Law Reform Commission, we had the opportunity to be able to specifically analyse some of the conceptual issues which underpin the law, which we typically don’t have enough time to throughout the course of our legal degree. So, for example, we were discussing whether copyright would constitute a natural right or whether it was merely a statutory right, whether legal certainty was merely of intrinsic or instrumental value. And this was, well, for myself personally, because I work in a research capacity at university, its extremely interesting, and something which is outside of the skills and experiences you obtain throughout the course of your law degree. So that was personally very fascinating and something that will be of great assistance in developing my career in the future.

MC: Great. Well, thanks guys. It’s been great having you at the ALRC. I know I’m not the only one who has been fascinated to walk past the intern office and sort of catch a glimpse of … a sound byte … of your very animated discussions and debates. It’s been great having you, and a great energy, and I wish you well and we hope you’ll keep in touch with us.

PS, KM, CS: Thank you, thanks very much.

The ALRC is accepting applications for Semester 2, 2013. For more information, visit www.alrc.gov.au/about/legal-internship-program.