news The Attorney-General’s Department has stated that it believes the Government has an obligation to publish by the end of February the full report which the Australian Law Reform Commission has painstakingly generated over the past several years into whether the Copyright Act is adequate to handle the new digital environment.
On 29 June 2012, the previous Labor Administration asked the ALRC to consider whether exceptions and statutory licences under the ageing Copyright Act 1968 were adequate and appropriate in the new digital environment of the Internet and whether further exceptions should be recommended.
The ALRC’s inquiry was opened following the Internet piracy High Court case between content owners and Internet service provider iiNet. After the court judgement, which was broadly unfavourable to the film and TV studios which had brought the action, the then-Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft had argued the Government should take legislative action on the issue.
The ALRC subsequently separately released an issues paper and discussion paper on the issue to the public, receiving a huge number of submissions (860) on the issue from the public and conducting some 109 consultations with stakeholders. It also briefly opened a very limited public discussion forum on the issue.
On 29 November, the ALRC delivered the final report on the issue, Copyright and the Digital Economy, to the Attorney-General, as required by the terms of reference. The report will likely act as a landmark document which will help the Federal Government form policy on a wide range of matters with relation to copyright and intellectual property law — such as fair use provisions, re-broadcasting, Internet piracy and more.
However, new Attorney-General George Brandis has not committed to releasing the report publicly. In addition, Brandis has consistently, over a period of several years, refused to comment on Coalition policy on areas relating to intellectual property.
On 17 December, Delimiter sought access to the full Copyright and the Digital Economy report under Freedom of Information laws.
In a response issued last week (PDF), AGD acting assistant secretary Douglas Rutherford noted that he had decided to grant full access to the report. However, Rutherford added that he had decided to defer access to the document until close of business on Thursday, 27 February under certain provisions of the FOI Act.
“The document you have sought was prepared for presentation to Parliament with the intention that it be made publicly available,” wrote Rutherford. “This report, titled ‘Copyright and the Digital Economy’, was delivered by the Australian Law Reform Commission to the Attorney-General on 2 December 2013.”
“Under section 23 of the Australian Law Reform Commission Act 1996, the Attorney-General must cause each report and interim report of the Australian Law Reform Commission on a matter that is the subject of a reference to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the Attorney-General receives it. As a result, it is anticipated that this report will be tabled in both Houses of Parliament on, or before, Thursday 27 February.”
Delimiter has chosen not to ask for an internal departmental appeal of Rutherford’s decision. However, if the report is not published by the end of February, Delimiter intends to seek an appeal to the Australian Information Commissioner, as the beginning of March falls within the 60 day time limit for appeals to the Australian Information Commission of FOI requests.
The document is not the only one of its kind relevant to Australia’s technology sector that the current Coalition Government has not yet committed to releasing. On 20 December, for example, Health Minister Peter Dutton noted that he had received a report reviewing the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records project. However, Dutton did not commit to releasing the report publicly. Delimiter is also seeking access to that report under Freedom of Information laws.
This will be a critical document that will help shape Copyright legislation and policy in future. It should be publicly released as soon as possible. Given that amount of public and corporate interest in this report, that should be obvious. There is a very high degree of public interest in gaining open access to this report.