Digital Age Education, Photocopier Era Law: Why reform of copyright will benefit students and schools

Copyright law is complex, and it can be hard to visualise what the world would look like if it was reformed.  

Recently there has been a lot of concern regarding the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) preliminary proposals to update Australia’s copyright law for the digital age.  

For schools, the ALRC has made two headline proposals:

  • the introduction of an open-ended, flexible exception for uses which are fair; and

  • the repeal of the statutory educational licences, in favour of voluntary educational licences.

These two proposals have caused a lot of concern – the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) for example recently circulated a letter warning of the increased burden on teachers, and removal of fair payment from authors.

These concerns however, are not supported by the discussion paper.  The ALRC, after studying the nearly 300 submissions from all sectors, provides a comprehensive examination (382 pages!) of the issues in its discussion paper, which addresses the concerns raised by the ASA.  The ALRC had the interests of creators firmly in mind, two of the framing principles of the report were 'acknowledging and respecting authoriship and creation' and 'maintaining  incentives for creation of works and other subject matters.'

For those not inclined the read 382 pages, the National Copyright Unit (NCU), on behalf of the Copyright Advisory Group (schools and TAFEs), the experts in educational copyright,  have drawn up an information sheet to address the ASA’s concerns.  It has also released an inforgraphic on why schools need fair use.  

Some quick excerpts from the letter responding to the ASA claims:

  • The Educational Statutory Licence makes a teacher’s job easier

There will be very few differences in the way teachers can use copyright materials in class.  What will be different is that schools will no longer be penalised financially for using digital technologies.

  • It is reassuring to know that people who create educational content receive payment for their skill, time and effort.  

The system proposed by the ALRC will continue to support the production of educational content in Australia – and will ensure that creators will continue to receive fair remuneration for their efforts.

Many uses that are currently paid for under the statutory licences will continue to be paid for in the proposed new system, under voluntary licence arrangements (similar to those currently in place and operate successfully with the music collecting societies).

The ALRC’s suggested changes will fix the current situation, which creates financial disincentives to use new technologies in teaching.  For example, currently showing material on an interactive whiteboard may result in up to four times as many remunerable activities than printing a copy for each student.

  • Change to the current system will create uncertainty about what I can and cannot share with my students

At present, there are different rules as to what content a teacher can copy, depending on whether the material is an image, text, TV broadcast, film or music recording.

The ALRC’s proposals will simplify the rules significantly.As is currently the case, the National Copyright Unit will provide clear and simple guidance on what uses are allowed in schools.

You can read the NCU information sheet in full here.  

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