Complexity of copyright law

3.49 Reform should not add further complications to an already complex statute.[81] Ideally, reform should promote clarity and certainty for creators, rights holders and users. The many amendments to the current legislation have resulted in complex numbering and ‘a feeling that the Act is unable to be understood by copyright creators and users’.[82] Aspects of the Act are ‘pointlessly narrow’ and there are ‘obvious deficiencies in drafting’.[83] The ALRC considers that one aspect of this Inquiry should be to reduce the complexity of the current Copyright Act and, with that, transaction costs for users and rights holders.

3.50 Reducing complexity can have a number of dimensions. Certainly, stakeholders are largely in favour of the concept ‘don’t make the statute more complex than it already is’. Many would go further and suggested overall simplification of what is already there. The fear is always that attempting either aspect—let alone both—will result in even greater incoherence.[84]

3.51 For law to be meaningful, ‘first, the law must be understandable, and if understood it must appear to the user to be reasonably possible to comply with its requirements’.[85] Setting out compliance requirements in exhaustive detail may seem to avoid uncertainty, but is not easy to understand, and may not further the law’s aims. The Internet Industry Association noted that the Copyright Act:

contains many provisions designed for specific cases and circumstances that appear to apply similar fundamental principles. This makes the Act difficult to penetrate, even for specialists.[86]

3.52 The National Archives of Australia considered that the complexity of copyright law was an impediment to providing ‘fair access to archival material’.[87] and State Records of South Australia asked for ‘simplification and consolidation of exceptions’ as the ‘complexity and piecemeal nature of the Act makes the provision of access to information difficult for both the public and archival institutions’.[88] Similarly, News and Foxtel would welcome having four separate format shifting exceptions replaced by one.[89]

3.53 While ‘a degree of complexity may be unavoidable’,[90] a number of stakeholders submitted that there is considerable scope for changing copyright law to make it more accessible:

Copyright law needs to be in step with common, established community practice. This is important to promote public perception of copyright law as a constructive, flexible and sensible framework for governing protection and access to content.[91]

3.54 APRA/AMCOS pointed to the undesirability of having ‘comprehensibility of a statute’ as an underlying principle for law reform, recognising, however, that unnecessary complexity results from confusion and redundancy.

3.55 Some stakeholders considered that reform for the purposes of simplification and clarity may be a ‘Trojan horse’ for substantive change in the law—there is opposition to using a ‘reducing complexity argument to support the introduction of a broad “fair use” exception’.[92]

3.56 While accepting that lawyers will always be needed to interpret complex legislation,[93] the ALRC considers that willingness to develop an understanding of desirable reform by stakeholders should be assumed. Some submissions seem to consider that Australian courts, industries and consumers are incapable of developing an understanding of concepts which, in a number of jurisdictions, including the US, courts, citizens and businesses deal with on a day-to-day basis.

3.57 This Inquiry is not aimed at overall simplification of the Copyright Act despite the concern of many stakeholders over the complexity and difficulty of the legislation. The ALRC considers that any reforms recommended should, at the very least, not add to that complexity. Many stakeholders endorse the view that a working understanding of copyright law should be more accessible so as to reduce transaction costs and facilitate more efficient transactions for business,[94] the public[95] and other users.[96] The various chapters in this Discussion Paper discuss how proposed reforms are intended to achieve this.

[81] NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice, Submission 294; Australian Copyright Council, Submission 219; National Library of Australia, Submission 218.

[82] A Stewart, P Griffith and J Bannister, Intellectual Property in Australia (4th ed, 2010), 146.

[83] P Knight, Submission 182.

[84] S Ricketson, ‘Simplifying Copyright Law: Proposals from Down Under’ (1999) 21(11) European Intellectual Property Review 537.

[85] C Reed, Making Laws for Cyberspace (2012), 23.

[86] Internet Industry Association, Submission 253.

[87] National Archives of Australia, Submission 155.

[88] State Records South Australia, Submission 255.

[89] Foxtel, Submission 245; News Limited, Submission 224.

[90] Law Council of Australia, Submission 263.

[91] Law Institute of Victoria (LIV), Submission 198; Arts Law Centre of Australia, Submission 171—‘Law reform should be driven by a desire to simplify the law, provide certainty, promote accessibility and maintain the relevance of the law’.

[92] News Limited, Submission 224. See also AAP, Submission 206.

[93] Copyright Agency/Viscopy, Submission 249; APRA/AMCOS, Submission 247.

[94] iiNet Limited, Submission 186; ACCC, Submission 165.

[95] See Internet Industry Association, Submission 253; Evolution Media Group, Submission 141.

[96] Including cultural and community groups: State Library of New South Wales, Submission 168; State Records NSW, Submission 160; Blind Citizens Australia, Submission 157; National Archives of Australia, Submission 155; National Gallery of Victoria, Submission 142; Powerhouse Museum, Submission 137.