Principle 4: Providing rules that are flexible and adaptive to new technologies

2.33 The Terms of Reference refer to the emergence of ‘new digital technologies’ as relevant in copyright reform. Stakeholders strongly endorse the principle that copyright law should be responsive to new technologies, platforms and services and be drafted to recognise that the operation of the law is fundamentally affected by technological developments, which allow copyright material to be used in new ways.[56]

2.34 As far as possible, the Copyright Act should be technology neutral and predictable in application in such a way as to minimise and avoid unnecessary obstacles to an efficient market, and avoid transaction costs. The ACCC stated that ‘reforms should be in pursuit of economic efficiency’.[57] However, the ACCC acknowledged that economic efficiency is only one facet of the broader policy and legal framework and other policy considerations need to be taken into account.

2.35 Adaptability and technological neutrality as a framing principle is to be weighed up against other objectives. While not an end in itself, the ALRC considers technological neutrality should be a highly relevant consideration. Stakeholders note that it is ‘an important principle’ as long as benefits exceed costs and the aim of neutrality does not override the rights of creators and owners of copyright material.[58]

2.36 Some stakeholders submitted that the existing legislation is increasingly imposing costs through being out of date and unsuited to the digital environment. For example, rapid change in technology and consumer behaviour is creating a ‘growing rift between platform-specific provisions of the Copyright Act and the ways in which Australians are increasingly using copyright materials’.[59] The Australian Interactive Media Industry Association submitted that, despite all the opportunity offered by the digital economy, ‘the Copyright Act is too technology specific and inflexible and as a result is unable to support today’s and tomorrow’s innovations’.[60]

2.37 In a converged media environment, where a multitude of different technologies can be used to create and distribute content, it is imperative that regulation does not restrict or impede technological innovation and investment because of artificial and outdated technological limitations.[61] It is ‘absolutely critical to our success that the Act operates effectively in a converged environment’.[62]

2.38 The desirability of technological neutrality in copyright reform and, inherent in this concept, notions of simplicity and accessibility to the law has been recognised in previous reform discussions.[63] It is still a concern: ‘The complexity of existing copyright laws makes it really difficult to innovate with content’.[64]

2.39 Technological neutrality is regarded as an important policy basis underpinning reform to copyright law at the international level[65] and indeed, has motivated much review and some reform in Australia.[66] However, ‘technology neutral law’ is not necessarily simple to draft,[67] and drafting laws of enduring relevance in the face of changing technology may be a good concept but difficult to achieve in practice. Even attempting ‘technology neutral law’ may enshrine ‘issues that are peculiar to this point in time, thereby stifling incentives for copyright owners to develop new business models’.[68]

2.40 While copyright law needs to be able to respond to changes in technology, consumer demand and markets, it also needs to have a degree of predictability so as to ensure sufficient certainty as to the existence of rights and the permissible use of copyright materials, leading to minimal transaction costs for owners and users and avoiding uncertainty and litigation. Uncertainty is created by definitions that become redundant or differentiate between subject matter or rights holders based on technology rather than underlying principle. As noted by the Ireland Copyright Review Committee:

If copyright law were unclear, or if there were widespread misunderstanding about its scope, then this would certainly create barriers to innovation. Moreover, as has often been observed, predictions are difficult, especially about the future. Hence, as many of the submissions emphasised, it is important that copyright law be as technology-neutral as possible. It is equally as important that it be capable either of adapting or of being easily adapted to unforeseen technological innovations. These are standards by which to judge both existing copyright law and any possible amendments.[69]

2.41 Some submissions indicated that the current Copyright Act applies inconsistently with respect to certain rights, exceptions, statutory licences or formats.[70] Schools point to remunerable activities under statutory licences being technology specific and/or referring to outdated technologies, creating anomalies.[71]

2.42 Stakeholders also strongly argued that ‘reform should not distinguish between technologies but should instead focus on the intention or purpose for which activities are undertaken.[72] Copyright should not be dictating the direction of technological innovation or hampering the development of more efficient systems.[73]

[56] See, eg, ADA and ALCC, Submission 213; Law Institute of Victoria (LIV), Submission 198; Australian Industry Group, Submission 179; ACCC, Submission 165; Ericsson, Submission 151; Commercial Radio Australia, Submission 132. The Law Council submitted that ‘a guiding principle of exceptions reform should be that stated in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Bill 1999: ensuring that the technical processes which form the basis of the operation of new technologies such as the Internet are not jeopardised’: Law Council of Australia, Submission 263.

[57] ACCC, Submission 165.

[58] Australian Copyright Council, Submission 219.

[59] Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Submission 210.

[60] AIMIA Digital Policy Group, Submission 261.

[61] Google, Submission 217. ‘The Copyright Act should not seek to draw distinctions between uses of copyright material merely because it is accessed via one technology over another. The underlying technology should be agnostic in defining whether a right exists to use or not use material. In any event, in a converged environment the differences between technologies are becoming increasingly blurred and technological boundaries are harder to define’: Optus, Submission 183. See also eBay, Submission 93.

[62] Foxtel, Submission 245.

[63] Copyright Law Review Committee, Simplification of the Copyright Act 1968: Part 1: Exceptions to the Exclusive Rights of Copyright Owners (1998), [6.01].

[64] Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Submission 210.

[65] iiNet Limited, Submission 186 citing F Gurry, Keynote Speech at Blue Sky Conference: Future Directions in Copyright Law (2011) <> at 29 May 2012.

[66] See, eg, the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Act 2000 (Cth) and Australian Copyright Council, Submission 219.

[67] See Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, Submission 201.

[68] Australian Copyright Council, Submission 219.

[69] Ireland Copyright Review Committee, Copyright and Innovation, Consultation Paper (2012) (accessed 4 February 2013).

[70] Free TV Australia, Submission 270; Internet Industry Association, Submission 253; Optus, Submission 183.

[71] Copyright Advisory Group—Schools, Submission 231.

[72] Telstra Corporation Limited, Submission 222.

[73] ADA and ALCC, Submission 213; Grey Literature Strategies Research Project, Submission 250.