Australia revises copyright law

Australia's Copyright Act has been amended in response to challenges posed by rapid developments in new communications technology. Among the reforms to the Digital Agenda, copyright owners' rights have been expanded beyond traditional boundaries to the digital environment, so that they have the exclusive right to commercially exploit their work on the Internet.

Internet service providers and carriers will not be liable for the infringement of copyright merely because they provide the facilities to do so. The responsible and liable party for any infringement is the person that determines the content of the communication.

"That old laws must apply to online world has always been implicit. This has made it infinitely clearer that they do," said Malcolm McBratney, head of Technology Group at McCollough Robertson Lawyers.

McBratney anticipates that the formalizing of the new law will have little effect on most people. The new Act takes into account that Internet browsers temporarily store information viewed in a cache and don't make the user liable.

Nor are people forwarding emails likely to be prosecuted for the breach in copyright, despite the new amendments. "On a strict reading of the Act, forwarding an email is a breach," said McBratney. "But it's not a bad argument that the original creator of the email knew it was going to be forwarded, and the email carries an implied licence to enable the receiver to do so."

The Act also makes it an offense to tamper with copy-protection systems. McBratney cited the example of Sony PlayStation, which installed a technology to block the use of pirated software. Pirates often sell chips that allow the pirated software to play on PlayStation. The new law means that Sony can take a heavy-handed approach to dealing with pirates.

Under the new Act, it is crucial that copyright owners know the value of their copyrighted works in the digital environment. "The important issue for copyright owners is an awareness of the value of their copyright works in the digital environment and the need to take expert legal advice before entering into arrangements with others for the exploitation of those works," said McBratney.

"It may be that copyright owners enter into separate and very different arrangements to exploit their copyright in the digital world in view of the value of these rights."

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