The Australian Digital Alliance's policy forum, Righting the Copyright Imbalance, brought together activists, policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders interested in copyright reform. There was an excellent range of speakers, and I highly recommend that you check out the podcasts of the forum available on the ADA website.
The most striking theme that came up during the forum was the role that international agreements have played in shaping Australia's copyright law. Dr. Nicholas Gruen argued that while our international obligations under agreements like the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights (TRIPS) do limit reforms, Australian policymakers have been too cautious; treaty obligations do not pose legal risks, although they may lead to legislation being contested and require policy backdowns.
The current risk-averse attitude to copyright policy, Gruen argues, is leading to an overcompliance with international agreements, and contributing to a intellectual property framework that constrains innovation. Several of the other speakers at the forum picked up on and extended Gruen's point. As one participant put it, what we need is to be "a little bit more bolshie" about pushing for an intellectual property regime that meets Australians' needs. This is particularly worth bearing in mind as negotations around the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement go ahead - with further worrying intellectual property provisions (for more, see EFF and TPPAWatch).
The issue of safe harbours also ran through discussion at the forum. As the forum's background information puts it,
The safe harbour limitations to intermediary liability are in urgent need of reform because they are
too narrow and only protect ISPs. The concept of safe harbours is to protect people who merely
provide a service from being liable for the copyright infringement of people who use their service, if
the service provider expeditiously blocks access to infringing content once notified. Safe harbours
protect ISPs from unnecessary legal risk which enables them to provide services to the public.
As well as more general discussion of problems with current safe harbour provisions, Tom Joyce of the University of Queensland and Paula Bray of the Powerhouse Museum talked about some of the practical challenges involved in working within the current system.
Kim Weatherall provided an excellent summary to round off the forum. She mapped out the key challenge for those interested in pushing for copyright reform as being developing reform proposals that:
- are persuasive, targeted, and relevant;
- will persuade government that our concerns matter and require government action;
- are relevant, and make sense within the constraints of international treaties.
More broadly, Weatherall also emphasised the need for coordinated action, and for solutions that don't require legislative change.
Did you attend the forum? What were the issues that seemed most vital to you? Even if you didn't attend, we'd love to hear your ideas on copyright reform - what's needed, and how can we achieve it?