Next Friday will be the one year anniversary since the release of the Fair Use Issues Paper by the Attorney-General’s Department. Since that time, there have been a number of live question shanging over Australian copyright law: will many everyday acts continue to be copyright infringement? Will we end up with more of the same (narrow, specific exceptions) or will some flexibility be built into the Copyright Act? A story in the Age yesterday updates current developments.

Since May of last year, the AG, Minister Ruddock has periodically suggested that some flexibility might be possible; that Australian law should not be stricter than US law (which currently, in some respects, it is, although in other respects it is more generous).

So we had this comment when the Issues Paper was released:

‘Many Australians believe quite reasonably they should be able to record a television program or format-shift music from their own CD to an iPod or MP3 player without infringing copyright law. However, this issue needs careful consideration’

In November we had these comments:

My approach is this.

(1) We should have copyright laws that are more targeted at the real problem.

(2) We should not treat everyday Australians who want to use technology to enjoy copyright material they have obtained legally as infringers, where this does not cause harm to our copyright industries.

But we should take tougher measures to deal with copyright pirates who make a profit or cause significant damage by ripping off other people’s material.

This targeted approach of getting tougher on pirates, while easing the law for Australian consumers, is one driving my reform agenda in copyright.

Of course, since then we’ve gone into a bit of a holding pattern.

Then yesterday, this story in The Age (hat tip: Paul Hobson):

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has signalled he favours a relaxation of Australian law to allow people to enjoy copyright material at their leisure and on the format that suits them.

The change, which is expected to be debated by cabinet in coming weeks, could legalise “time shifting” – where consumers record programs and watch them later, and “format shifting” – where digital material, such as a CD recording, is transferred to a different device.


The Age believes that senior Government players also have different ideas about how to balance the rights and interests of copyright holders and consumers. Mr Ruddock has floated the option of legalising copying for private use with a number of industry organisations.


But even a modest relaxation of copyright law will face strong resistance from copyright owners and producers, particularly Australia’s television networks, which have lobbied strongly against any change.

Watch this space.