Google slams Australian copyright laws

Fair dealing no substitute for fair use, Google argues

Australia’s copyright regime is negatively impacting the country’s ability to innovate and holding back the digital economy, according to Google.

While innovation is “dynamic” Australia’s copyright exceptions are “static,” the search giant argued in a submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the country’s intellectual property regime.

In its strongly worded submission (PDF) Google argued in favour of introducing a flexible fair use exception, along the lines of the recommendation in a 2013 report issued by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

The ALRC's Copyright and the Digital Economy report said that introducing a fair use provision in copyright law would assist innovation and promote the public interest.

“Google believes that the ALRC got it right,” Google argued in its submission to the PC inquiry.

“There is substantial empirical evidence showing the importance of copyright exceptions to productivity and economic growth.”

The existing fair dealing provisions in Australian copyright law can act as a fetter on innovation, in contrast to jurisdictions, such as the United States, that have fair use, the submission argued.

Attorney-General George Brandis has previously indicated opposition to the introduction of a fair use exception in Australian IP law.

After Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott as prime minister, copyright became the domain of communications minister Mitch Fifield.

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Safe harbours

Google also argued for a more developed safe harbour system in Australian law. Australia currently offers safe harbour protection to commercial Internet service providers.

“Excluding other online service providers from the safe harbour scheme makes Australia a much more high-risk legal environment for hosting content when compared to countries that have safe harbour schemes with broad application,” Google argued.

“It also creates an uneven playing field for local innovations, placing them at serious commercial disadvantage when compared to commercial ISPs and global competitors.”

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Google recommended that Australia extend the safe harbour scheme to all online service providers.

A government discussion paper on copyright law released in 2014 canvassed the extension of the safe harbour scheme.

"This would be achieved by removing the reference to carriage service provider and replacing it with a definition of 'service provider'," the paper stated, extending safe harbour provisions to entities such as CDNs and search engines.

However, the only proposal in that paper to have so far been legislated is a scheme to force ISPs to block websites linked to online piracy.

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