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Australia’s Prime Minister Supports Expanded Safe Harbor Protections Down Under

(ByTimothy Geigner via The history of copyright law in Australia is somewhat tortured, with the government there far too often bending the knee to entertainment industries both local and abroad. Still, while much of this history is fraught with protectionism reared intentionally, one of the more curious aspects of Australian copyright law appears to have originated as something of an accident. That aspect is that the kind of safe harbor protections that exist in America are rather limited in Australia. Specifically limited to commercial ISPs, as opposed to websites or institutions that provide internet access generally speaking. We’ll get a bit more into how this came to be in a moment. We’ll start instead with news that recently offered amendments to copyright law in the country that would shore up safe harbor protections more generally have received the support of Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull.

To solve this problem and put Australia on a similar footing to technology companies operating in the United States, proposed amendments to the Copyright Act will see all of the above receiving enhanced safe harbor protections while bringing the country into compliance with AUSFTA.But for now, momentum appears to be shifting in favor of the technology platforms. A report in The Australian (paywall) indicates that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has given the safe harbor amendments his support. It won’t be all plain sailing from here, however.

And that rocky road to harmonizing Australian copyright law with the EU and America is being laid by the usual entertainment industry suspects, whose objections are familiar tropes. Music and entertainment groups are complaining that offering safe harbor protections to such unworthy entities as schools and libraries, along with websites like Google and Facebook, amounts to codifying piracy. That’s silly for all the reasons you should already know, but which can be best stated as it being quite dumb, and immoral, to saddle a third party with the guilt of a pirate just because it’s an easier and more lucrative target. Because that’s all this opposition amounts to: the desire to sue a school if a student infringes copyright. Or Google. Or a museum that provides internet access. This is what the entertainment industry wants to go to bat over.

But this gets really dumb when you consider that the lack of safe harbor protections in question was the result essentially of a poor choice of words over a decade ago.

The problem in Australian arose in the implementation of AUSFTA when the term “carriage service provider” (a technical terms for telecommunications companies and ISPs) was used rather than the wider “service provider” definition in the treaty.“This places Australia at a competitive disadvantage” says Trish Hepworth. “Australian providers of common activities – transmitting data, caching, hosting and referring users to an online location – lack the protections and certainties enjoyed by their overseas competitors. It places schools, universities and libraries in a risky position as they go about their everyday business. ”

Reformers have been trying for ten years to correct this error, but they have been stymied at every turn by entrenched industry lobbyists. But now, with the Prime Minister throwing his weight behind expanded protections, there’s a road map for a change in the law. The Australian government will be holding Senate hearings to debate the amendments, and you can be sure that the entertainment industry will be well represented within them, but a PM endorsement is a big deal. Hopefully our Aussie friends will get this right.

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