Why is The Australian campaigning against safe habour changes to the Copyright Act? 

In at least five articles from The Australian this week about how bad an idea it is, a campaign is being run to stop changes that would clarify what online services can and can’t do with copyright works in Australia.

“Rather than respecting others’ copyrights, as law-abiding, non-monopolist companies do, Google is asking Australia to pardon its past and future copyright kleptomania to deny forever others’ normal right to their day in court,” today’s opinion piece from noted anti-Google writer and competitor Scott Cleland reads.

Let’s check it for fingerprints: 

Who benefits? News Corp, of course. The company’s director of corporate affairs Campbell Reid is quoted in one of Darren Davidson’s first articles, as being opposed to the proposal.

Who loses? Online services, educational institutions, and copyright reform. Under the current Copyright Act, carriage service providers — subject to meeting several strict conditions like removing repeat copyright infringers, and removing content when informed it is infringing — are exempt from liability for copyright infringement. In legislation expected to be introduced in the next sitting fortnight, the federal government will expand this safe harbour to cover educational institutions, online search engines like Google, and cloud storage services. It would mean more certainties for these companies that cloud services based in Australia are not in breach of copyright law for their activities. Facebook and Google currently get similar safe harbour exemptions for operating in the US. 

Connections: Google is being painted as the bad guy, despite the fact that many other companies and universities are seeking clarity on safe harbour law, at least to bring it into line with laws in other countries. The current line of attack is that the issue hasn’t been widely discussed. To the contrary, in addition to the Department of Communications consulting on the exposure draft of this legislation, Policy Australia has highlighted at least six other times since 2005 that the government has conducted reviews into expanding safe harbour. There will now also be yet another inquiry into it when the legislation is introduced

Conclusion: While on the one hand, News Corp is keen to push media reform, it can’t let Google or Facebook get one over on the communications minister as it battles for all the online ad revenue it can get.

Peter Fray

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