A Fabulous Forum Starts a Big Year for Copyright

Sam Ahlin presenting on copyright reform

(image: Sam Ahlin reports on copyright reform)

As we finish up another February, it is once again time to reflect on the success of this year’s ADA Copyright Forum, and look forward to the reform agenda for the year ahead.

2017 was a particularly big year for copyright reform in Australia, with new laws, new regulations, a new Bill and reviews on issues ranging from the Digital Economy Strategy to the collecting societies code of conduct.

But 2018 has the potential to be even bigger. Not only do we have the reporting from last year’s reviews - the draft report of the collecting society code review was released on Wednesday, and the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Service Providers Bill is due to report on 19 March - we also have at least two new reviews in the offing. The 18 month Review of the Online Infringement Act (aka the website blocking legislation) was announced last week, and an omnibus review is also planned which will look at three issues on which the Productivity Commission provided recommendations in its groundbreaking review of Australia's Intellectual Property Arrangements:

  • how orphan works may legally be used
  • which takes precedence when copyright and contract conflict
  • modernising Australia’s limitations and exceptions.

This last promises to be particularly exciting. In its response to the PC Inquiry the government committed to “a modernised copyright exceptions framework that keeps pace with technological advances and is flexible to adapt to future changes.” This has the potential for a wholesale rethink of how the Australian Copyright Act balances the competing tensions of incentivising creativity and allowing public interest uses.

With this in mind, this year’s ADA Forum focused on the year ahead - the potential it held for real reform; what we wanted that reform to be; and how it could be achieved. What is a modern copyright framework in 2018 and beyond? What are others doing globally to modernise their systems? And what do we need here – now and in the future?

We started with what many attendees described as the highlight - a keynote from Harvard Law Professor Ruth Okediji on the role of copyright in the age of exceptions. Okediji has spent a large part of her career working on the role of IP in social and economic development with governments around the world, and so had a unique insight into what can and is being done to increase the flexibility of copyright globally. She started big, with a challenge to the very foundation of copyright - the Berne Convention. She raised the question of whether it was time to re-examine some of the basic principles enshrined in the Convention, such as the decision to treat single tweets the same as great works of art, and the assumption that authors were primarily motivated by economic gain. In doing so, she set the scene perfectly for discussion throughout the day - if we think big, what can we achieve in copyright reform?

This was followed by a second keynote by Professor Jill McKeough of the University of Technology, Sydney, the lead of one of the most influential Australian copyright reviews of the last decade, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Digital Economy Inquiry. She reflected on why it was, with so many reviews recommending the same things, it has taken so long for reform to take hold. She also suggested how we could make this year’s consultation as effective and productive as possible - starting with keeping our submissions short.

The day then took a practical bent, with Sam Ahlin, Director of the Copyright Law Section at the Department of Communications and the Arts, outlining the goals and timeline for the reviews this year, and representatives of the universities, schools and archives explaining what their sectors wanted from the reviews. We heard about the successful implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty reforms last year, and considered what we could learn from them for this year. And we welcomed two new reports - one from Deloitte Access Economics pulling together the evidence for an Economic Assessment of fair use in Australia, and one from QUT researchers providing a qualitative study of the reuse practices of creators in Australia. Finally, we finished up with a fun look at the copyright challenges of the future - how the latest technologies and practices, from video games to data visualisations to virtual reality, ask us to reconsider the norms that have developed in a pre-digital world.

One of the most remarkable things about the day was the consistency of the themes that emerged. Primary was the optimism people had for the reform process this year, riding on the successes of 2017, and the importance of new approaches in that process. There was also a clear message about the importance of communication and collaboration across the usual silos, and even the potential for points on which consensus might emerge - if we all think outside the box.

The good news for those who didn’t make the day, or who want to revisit the most inspiring talks - videos of the day are now available on our Youtube channel (note - a few are still pending approval). For the full details of the Forum, including the program, speakers and slides from the day, check out the ADA website.

As always, we would once again like to thank all our speakers and everyone who attended, and in particular those who asked questions and made the day so dynamic. We look forward to seeing you all in Canberra again next year.

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