An alternative: a new fair dealing exception

An alternative exception, should fair use not be enacted, is also recommended: a ‘new fair dealing’ exception that consolidates the existing fair dealing exceptions and provides that fair dealings for certain new purposes do not infringe copyright.

This exception is similar to fair use, but crucially, it is confined to a set of prescribed purposes. The purposes listed in the fair use exception are illustrative—examples of types of use that may be fair. The purposes listed in the new fair dealing exception, on the other hand, confine the exception. This exception would only apply when a given use is made for one of the prescribed purposes.

The purposes in the new fair dealing exception are the same as those the ALRC recommends should be referred to in the fair use exception. Using copyright material for one of these purposes will not necessarily be fair—the fairness factors must be considered—but these uses are favoured.

Many of the benefits of fair use would also flow from this new fair dealing exception. Both exceptions are flexible standards, rather than prescriptive rules. They both call for an assessment of the fairness of particular uses of copyright material. In assessing fairness, they both require the same fairness factors to be considered, and therefore they both ask the same important questions when deciding whether an unlicensed use infringes copyright. Both exceptions encourage the use of copyright material for socially useful purposes, such as criticism and reporting the news; they both promote transformative or productive uses; and both exceptions discourage unlicensed uses that unfairly harm and usurp the markets of rights holders.

Despite the many benefits common to both fair use and fair dealing, a confined fair dealing exception will be less flexible and less suited to the digital age than an open-ended fair use exception. Importantly, with a confined fair dealing exception, many uses that may well be fair will continue to infringe copyright, because the use does not fall into one of the listed categories of use. For such uses, the question of fairness is never asked.

In the ALRC’s view, Australia is ready for, and needs, a fair use exception now. However, if fair use is not enacted, then the new fair dealing exception will be a considerable improvement on the current set of exceptions in the Copyright Act.