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Copyright Bill nukes libraries and paves the way for control of reading

By Charles Britton - posted Friday, 15 October 1999

While the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Bill is a laudable attempt to move the copyright regime into the digital era, the Australian Consumers’ Association (ACA) is concerned about the impact of certain aspects of this draft Bill on consumer rights and access to information.

The draft Bill risks reinforcing the growth of the digital divide between information rich and information poor by creating barriers which might limit the ability of libraries to service consumers and by defining a pay per view future for reading.

The ACA is concerned that things that might be characterised as circumvention devices could become unavailable to consumers. A consumer could be disadvantaged by this restriction, for instance in equipment used to multi-zone DVD players. Consumers with disks legitimately obtained (by import, because of immigration or relocation, by Internet purchase) could be denied access to material they own


In another example, consumers have an exception to make backup copies of software which is otherwise copyright. However, if this software is locked up in such a way as to deny backup, the consumer will be denied access to a device to unlock it for the reasonable and legitimate reason of backing up to preserve the value of their investment.

The restriction on access to circumvention devices in the draft Bill leads to an erosion of the consumer’s capacity to exercise their right of access independent of copyright holder control, particularly in the absence of any provision to protect the permitted uses under the exceptions in the Copyright Act from being overridden by contract.

We are very concerned by the definitional change to lock ‘corporate libraries’ out of the library exceptions of the Act. Libraries function as a network, adding value to the information of their collections as a total interconnected resource. Such a change is likely to have significant systemic consequences, the consequences of which may be far-reaching and not immediately apparent.

An immediate impact will be to lock specialised collections of material in such ‘corporate libraries’ away from the reach of ordinary users. There will be significant uncertainties for such libraries when they share their material with other libraries, voluntary licenses being only a partial and incomplete solution. There may be research, industry development and educational impacts.

The draft bill may also cause temporary copies, not made in the course of communication, to be infringing. The current status of temporary copies is undefined and this treatment of temporary copies may crystallise the status of non-communication temporary copies with cost and other consequences for consumers. Such temporary copies may be found in the anti-jog buffers of portable music equipment, in caching arrangements for CD playing on PCs, inside digital photocopiers, all of which are copies made in the course of legitimate use and are not made with any intent to infringe. Legal uncertainty in this area is not helpful in developing consumer confidence in new technology.

The new electronic use system proposed by the draft Bill seeks to apply the idea of paying per use, rather than per copy. The Bill paves the way for a ‘pay per view’ future since payment will be required each time students look at electronic reference material, rather than just when the original copy is made.


Material which has until now been managed as text and images on paper, where price per copy still applies, will be priced per view in the electronic environment. This moves the ‘goal posts’ significantly to the disadvantage of consumers, while failing to achieve a primary goal of the Bill, which is technological neutrality.

We consider that electronic use should refer to a substantive first copy, and allow subsequent free access for fair dealing and non-infringing purposes such as study or research, as is the case in the print environment.

There are many threats to consumer rights of access to material in the digital future. Intrusive rights management systems, pay per view environments and comprehensive monitoring of reading with accompanying violations of privacy are all serious concerns. Copyright holders do not need additional legal protection in the on-line environment.

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About the Author

Charles Britton is Senior Policy Officer, IT and Communications at the Australian Consumers Association.

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