Australian Government’s U-turn on the copyright safe harbour amendment

23 March 2017

Following an effective public campaign by publishers and other rights holders, a damaging copyright safe harbour proposal has been withdrawn by the Australian Government from the recently presented Disability Access and Other Measures Bill 2017.

The Australian Government faced a united front of content creators, media companies and sport organisations in Australia against the proposed amendment which would have provided immunity to online commercial intermediaries such as Google and Facebook when users upload material which infringes legal copyright.

Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling welcomed the move as “a sensible step in ensuring Australia’s copyright system continues to evolve with developments in technology, content creation and consumer behaviour.” He added that “the changes also ensure rights holders continue to receive a fair payment for their work so that they can continue to produce great Australian content.”

News media groups had been highly critical of the safe harbour proposal. Getty Images’ General Counsel Yoko Miyashita stated that while safe harbours’ purported intention is to “provide strong incentives for online service providers and copyright holders to co-operate to detect and deal with copyright infringements,” this had never actually materialised. Instead, safe harbour provisions encouraged online service providers to turn a blind eye to infringements to avoid a copyright minefield. Miyashita added that these rules imposed a disproportionate burden on copyright holders who must identify infringements and send takedown notices for each and every case.

“It is unfathomable why the government would want to punish content creators in this way, be they journalists, photographers, musicians, filmmakers or authors,” said News Corp Australia exec­utive chairman Michael Miller. He said recent cases in the US and Europe provided evidence that so-called ‘safe ­harbours’ have been ruthlessly exploited by commercial online intermediaries.

Australian Minister Mr. Fletcher announced the new Bill would enter into force on 1 January 2019 and will apply to copyright material created before 1 January 2019 that remains unpublished (or otherwise not made public) at that date.

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