Libraries not forced to police user's copyright infringement in latest Government proposals

There will be no extension to authorisation liability under the online copyright infringement proposals outlined this week by the Communications Minister and Attorney-General. 

“This is excellent news for libraries” said Trish Hepworth, the law and policy advisor for the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee (ALCC).

“The original proposal to extend authorisation liability would have increased legal risk and uncertainty for the library, archive and information sector. We are very glad that the government listened to the concerns of the sector when revising the scheme.”

The revised scheme sees ISPs and rightsholders tasked with agreeing the details of a code before April 8.  The code will then be registered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), making it mandatory for all Australian ISPs.  The code is expected to see ISPs send ‘warning’ notes to their customers when they infringe copyright.

Libraries are currently take steps to prevent direct copyright infringement (actions taken by the library) and to avoid ‘authorisation liability’ (where libraries are held liable for the copyright infringement of their patrons).

“Libraries have worked under the authorisation doctrine for many years.  While not a perfect system, libraries have developed reasonable steps within this doctrine to reduce copyright infringement on their networks.”

Missing from the announcement however was any reference to an extension of the safe harbour scheme. This scheme protects service providers such as libraries from being sued for damages if their users infringe copyright, as long as they have followed certain procedures.

In Australia, safe harbours only apply to Carriage Service Providers (ISPs) rather than the broader ‘Service Providers’ in other countries such as the US. This lack of protection is the result of a minor error in the implementation of the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement 10 years ago, and libraries have been advocating for it to be fixed ever since.

“We regret that the government has missed the opportunity to increase legal certainty for libraries with the extension of safe harbours” said Trish Hepworth.

 “This was a simple, positive reform, in the interests of everybody.  Safe harbours give a clear framework for rightsholders to report infringing material and have it removed.  They have inbuilt safeguards of due process for consumers and they let service providers such as libraries, manage legal risk”

“We would hope that this matter, as well as other outstanding copyright reforms such as fair use, orphan works, a term for unpublished works and the review on digital locks will progress steadily in 2015.”