New inquiries: national classification review and copyright

The Government has made public announcements about two new inquiries intended for the ALRC. The ALRC has yet to receive final Terms of Reference for both these inquiries and until terms are received, the inquiries are only foreshadowed.

National classification review

On 21 December 2010, the Attorney-General the Hon Robert McClelland MP issued a joint press release with Minister for Home Affairs and Justice the Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, stating that the ALRC will conduct a review of classification laws in Australia in light of changes in technology, media convergence and the global availability of media content.

The Commission previously conducted an inquiry into laws relating to classification and censorship in 1991.

Minister for Home Affairs and Justice Brendan O’Connor said current classification categories would be considered as part of the review. In the joint press release, Mr O’Connor said:

“It has become increasingly clear that the system of classification in Australia needs to be modernised so it is able to accommodate developments in technology now and in the future.

When the National Classification Scheme began, classifiable content and the way it was delivered to consumers was relatively static.

Today, films can be watched in a cinema, on DVD, on TV or downloaded. Many video games include significant film segments to tell stories, and some films have interactive content. The National Broadband Network will increase this ready access to classifiable content.

People, particularly parents, need a system of classification in Australia that allows them to make informed choices about what they wish to read, see and hear.

“This important review will look not only at classification categories, but also at the whole classification system to ensure it continues to be effective in the 21st century.”

The Attorney-General’s Department published the proposed Terms of Reference on the Classification website, inviting the public to comment. The closing date for comments was 28 January 2011. It is proposed that the ALRC report to the Attorney-General in December 2011, however the ALRC is yet to receive the final Terms of Reference.

On 11 February 2011 the federal Attorney-General published an item in the Australian Financial Review (p.46), “ALRC performs vital role”. The article outlined the Gillard government’s support for the ALRC and stated that it will “appoint a full-time commissioner to lead the inquiry into classification, a particularly technical area of law that will benefit from the input of subject matter expertise”. The ALRC welcomes this announcement.

We would like to thank interns Lucinda O’Dwyer, Katie Batty and Catherine Farrell who assisted with preliminary research on this proposed reference during January.

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Copyright Inquiry

On 25 February 2011, the Attorney-General addressed the Blue Sky Conference on future directions in Copyright law and announced his intention to provide the ALRC with a reference on copyright. In relation to that reference, he said:

“I believe that this area would benefit from the expertise of the ALRC – as an independent, specialist legal review body it is well placed to thoroughly examine this important area.

The terms of reference will, of course, be developed in close consultation with the ALRC. 

I appreciate that a reference will need to be clearly defined in scope, given the broad range of complex issues and competing interests in the copyright sphere.

It will be important to not duplicate work undertaken by Government on various policy issues, or in the course of related reviews -for example the Government’s Convergence Review.

It will also be important to have regard to timing considerations in terms of the areas to be examined- as I outlined earlier, it is important to consider the speed of technological developments and practices in this area.  

As the Australian Law Reform Commission has existing references that will take several months to complete, I anticipate that terms of reference would be provided later this year.”

See transcript of the full Address >>