With no fanfare (and I mean no fanfare: no press release at all; I found out via the Australian Copyright Council website), the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts have issued a Discussion Paper on the Extension of Legal Deposit in Australia to include audio-visual materials and electronic materials.

The submission date is 11 January 2008, and the Discussion Paper is available from both the DCITA and AG’s websites.

The Legal Deposit scheme requires Australian publishers of ‘library material’ (all paper-based publications – books, sheet music, periodicals, pamphlets) to deposit copies of that material with the National Library of Australia. It doesn’t require deposit of films, sound recordings, or other materials in electronic form, including web material or e-books. (although the penalty – all of $100 – for failure to comply isn’t all that scary).

The purpose is to develop a public collection of published material, so as to preserve national heritage and provide access for research purposes. This stuff is actually quite important (particularly for people like me, but also from a policy perspective).

But of course legal deposit does become trickier when you move to electronic materials. Do we want to preserve every website? Really? Even the teenager’s blog? When? (websites change!) Maybe instead we should go for representative samples? If so, how do we judge what is ‘representative’? And how do you make stuff accessible? If it is preserved electronically, should it be made available online? To whom? On what basis? If you are a public institution responsible for this, do you depend on commercial products to continue their commercial way, and try to fill the gaps? What if the commercial publisher stops providing a service? Really, really interesting questions.

For convenience, a full list of the questions in the review is reproduced over the fold.

  1. Should the legal deposit scheme be extended to audiovisual and electronic materials and, if so, how should such materials be defined (including the quality of legal deposit materials, such as the ‘best copy’)?
  2. Should an extended legal deposit scheme be in the Copyright Act 1968 or is a separate piece of legislation more appropriate?
  3. How many copies of published material should a publisher be required to deposit under an extended legal deposit scheme?
  4. Should the existing requirement that material be deposited at the publisher’s expense continue to apply under an extended legal deposit scheme?
  5. Should there be a role for other organisations, in addition to the NLA and NFSA, to act as repositories for material under an extended legal deposit scheme?
  6. How might duplication of material collected by legal deposit agencies be avoided? For example, should publishers be required to deposit relevant material with more than one institution?
  7. Should an extended legal deposit scheme apply to electronic versions of printed material?
  8. What other material should an extended legal deposit scheme apply to?
  9. Should an extended legal deposit scheme apply to broadcasts? If so should this be limited to any particular types of material? Should the scheme apply to internet material hosted in Australia?
  10. Should an extended legal deposit scheme apply to internet material hosted outside Australia and in what situations?
  11. In light of the existing provisions in the Copyright Act, is there a need for any additional provisions to ensure the safe storage and preservation of legal deposit materials?
  12. What approach, comprehensive, selective or hybrid, should be used for collection of materials under an extended legal deposit scheme? Should ‘significance’, say to Australian audiences, be the basis of any extension of legal deposit? Should online and offline material be treated differently and if so, on what basis?
  13. What timeframe should apply for deposit under an extended legal deposit scheme? Is the timeframe for deposit suggested by the CLRC appropriate in the context of a selective approach to extending legal deposit? Should different time frames apply to the deposit of different published materials if legal deposit is extended?
  14. In light of the recent amendments to the technological protection measure provisions in the Copyright Act, are any additional provisions required to ensure access to materials deposited under an extended legal deposit scheme? Should publishers be required to ensure that the copy of published material provided under an extended legal deposit scheme will be accessible?
  15. On what basis, if any, should access be restricted to material deposited under an extended legal deposit scheme?
  16. Under any extended legal deposit scheme should legal deposit materials be subject to separate provisions concerning their use by the repository institution and the public? What kind of provisions are desirable to ensure that repository institutions can provide the public with adequate access to legal deposit materials under any extended scheme?
  17. Are there any other issues that you consider relevant to the extension of the legal deposit scheme?