Australia Readies New Copyright Safe Harbor Consultation

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Last month Australia dropped plans to extend its copyright safe harbor provisions to include platforms such as Google, Facebook and YouTube. A little over a month later and the topic is back on the agenda, with the government announcing a new consultation aimed at encouraging the growth of the digital economy while protecting copyright holders.

Unlike in the United States where so-called safe harbor provisions apply to Internet service providers and online platforms such as Google and Facebook, Australia’s system offers reduced protection for the latter group.

To put the country on a similar footing as other technologically advanced nations, amendments were proposed to Australia’s Copyright Act that would’ve seen enhanced safe harbor assurances for platforms including search engines and social networks.

Last month, however, the government dropped the amendments before they were due to be introduced to parliament. That came as a surprise, particularly as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had given the proposals his approval just a week earlier.

While business startup advocates were disappointed by the move, copyright holders welcomed the decision, with Dan Rosen, chief executive of the Australian Recording Industry Association, calling for a “full, independent and evidence-based review” in advance of similar future proposals. Just a month later and that seems a likely outcome.

In a statement delivered by Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, the government has now announced a further consultation on extending the safe harbor provisions of the Copyright Act.

“An expanded safe harbor regime would provide a useful mechanism for rights holders to have material that infringes their copyright removed from online service providers,” Fifield said.

“An expanded regime would also ensure that service providers are not held responsible for the infringing actions of their users, provided they take reasonable steps to take down material that infringes copyright.”

The minister said that the government intends to “proceed carefully” to ensure that any legislation achieves the above objectives while balancing the need to grow Australia’s digital economy and supporting the needs of creators and copyright holders.

The Department of Communications will now oversee a series of meetings and roundtable discussions with stakeholders, prior to delivering advice to the government by early June 2017.

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