From Notepads to iPads – copyright protection in a digital world

By Jessica Ortner
Intellectual Property Patents & Trade Marks

In brief 3 min read

With the global transition from analogue to digital, Australia's copyright laws continue to evolve in an attempt to keep up with the digitisation of content. The Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, recently addressed the Australian Digital Alliance about the new opportunities and challenges that digitisation presents for copyright in 2020. A key message was that Australia's copyright policy agenda is constantly shifting, to balance the rights of all stakeholders – consequently, businesses should be keeping an ear to the ground for further reforms, due later this year.

Key takeaways

  • Copyright matters 'more than ever in a digital world'.
  • New reforms require a balancing act of the interests of all copyright stakeholders.
  • Further reforms will be announced in late 2020.

Copyright in a digital world

Copyright laws protect a diverse range of content creators and artists across all Australian sectors. Creative works now feature on digital technologies such as Kindles and iPads, and across digital and social media platforms including Netflix, Facebook, YouTube and Google. These technologies and platforms produce, distribute and promote works efficiently and affordably, and have created new business models and new economic opportunities. However, in an era where works can be copied, recorded and distributed (and repeatedly infringed) with a click of a button, Mr Fletcher stressed that 'copyright matters more than ever'.

Why is further reform necessary?
  • Content is more affordable, accessible and easier to reproduce than in the past;
  • 86% of Australian households have internet and access to online content (according to the latest ABS statistics); and
  • global literacy, education and population rates, along with global incomes, have increased and led to a rise in demand for content.

Unsurprisingly, these trends have contributed to an increase in copyright infringement, and they clearly illustrate the need for improved protection and enforcement legislation for rights-holders.

Mr Fletcher also emphasised growth trends in Australia's now $111 billion cultural and creative industry. This growth will also require further reforms to adequately safeguard investment and jobs in the sector.

Challenges to reforming copyright in 2020

The Australian Government recently legislated to improve access to content, simplify licensing models, establish a term of protection for unpublished materials and extend the safe harbour scheme to more sectors. Copyright protection, however, is constantly threatened by the ever-increasing rate of globalisation and a lack of consistent global copyright legislation. Policy-makers also face the challenge of protecting creators against powerful digital platforms including Google, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

The Government is still examining issues including flexibility of exceptions to copyright infringement, contracting out of exceptions, and access to orphan works. While Mr Fletcher called for more specific and targeted reforms – particularly for digital and social media platforms – stakeholders have expressed polarising views about the degree of flexibility required in Australia's approach to copyright. Despite some of them lobbying for the United States-style fair use approach, to allow copyright to better adapt in a digital world, it is unclear what reforms Australia will implement. It is nonetheless anticipated that copyright will remain on the Australian political agenda until the 'right balance' is struck between protecting rights-holder interests and maintaining a space for growth and innovation.

What now?

Mr Fletcher commented that policy-makers are 'strongly committed to further work with stakeholders', and will look to strengthen enforcement and access laws in the coming months. While we do not know how the current political and economic climate will affect the timing of these policy discussions, businesses should remain engaged with the copyright policy agenda and look out for further reforms later this year.