Pirates Ahead! Australian Copyright Law Must Navigate Treacherous Waters

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) is subject to many (sometimes competing) pressures, and as a result Australian copyright law has become a lengthy and intricate piece of legislation.

All Australian copyright law stems from the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). This makes things sound deceptively simple. While the one Act sources all rights referred to as “copyright”, the reality is that the Copyright Act 1968 is subject to many (sometimes competing) pressures, and as a result has become a lengthy and intricate piece of legislation. Rapid advances in technology and Australia’s obligations in an international arena are significant examples of such pressures, but they are only two pieces of the puzzle.

In fact, the complexities surrounding copyright law begin at an even more fundamental level than this. First, there is a fine balancing act that lawmakers must be constantly wary of in shaping copyright law – on the one hand giving those persons behind creative expressions, as the Copyright Law Review Committee put it, their “just reward for the benefit … bestowed on the community and also to encourage the making of further creative works”; while on the other hand ensuring “as far as possible, that the rights conferred are not abused and that study, research and education are not unduly hampered” (Commonwealth of Australia, Report of the Committee Appointed by the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth to Consider what Alterations are Desirable in the Copyright Law of the Commonwealth (Commonwealth Government Printer, 1959) at [13]).

Second, the question of what exactly can be the subject matter of copyright does not always have a clear-cut answer. That is, it is the expression of ideas that is afforded protection under copyright, rather than the ideas themselves. Furthermore, while the Copyright Act 1968 provides for protection of “works” and “subject matter other than works” and outlines the scope of these categories of material, the finer boundaries of what actually falls into these categories is constantly being tested and evolving.

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