Government to expand copyright safe harbour scheme

No joy for digital service providers though

The government has introduced a bill that will expand the safe harbour provisions in the Copyright Act 1968.

The act currently grants offers legal protection to telcos for any copyright infringements by their customers, providing they take certain steps to deter infringement.

Under the act, “carriage service providers” — such as Telstra, Optus and TPG — are covered by the scheme’s protections.

The Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill 2017 will expand the scheme to include “an organisation assisting persons with a disability”, public libraries, archives, educational institutions and key cultural institutions.

“Extending the safe harbour scheme in this way will provide greater certainty to institutions in these sectors and enhance their ability to provide more innovative and creative services for all Australians,” said a statement issued by communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield.

“The changes will also give copyright owners tools to work with these sectors to prevent copyright infringement by their users.”

The government has previously considered a broader expansion of Australia’s safe harbour provisions.

The bill notably omits digital service providers such as search engines and content distribution networks.

Google has previously called for a more significant rework of the safe harbour scheme.

Excluding some online service providers from the scheme “makes Australia a much more high­risk legal environment for hosting content when compared to countries that have safe harbour schemes with broad application,” the company argued in 2015 submission to a Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s intellectual property regime.

“It also creates an uneven playing field for local innovations, placing them at serious commercial disadvantage when compared to commercial ISPs and global competitors,” Google argued.

Fifield indicated that the government is open to further changes to the safe harbour scheme.

“The Government will continue to work with stakeholders on reforms to the safe harbour scheme to ensure it is fit for purpose and reflective of world’s best practice, before looking to apply it to other online service providers,” the minister’s statement said.

“In so doing, the Government will be mindful of the need to ensure the rights of creators are properly protected. Australia’s copyright framework ensures that creators can receive a fair return for their work.”

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