V-cs fear copyright loophole

April 23, 1999

MELBOURNE

Australian vice-chancellors fear their universities will become involved in costly legal battles because the current law on copyright does not cover electronic copying and transmission.

The vice-chancellors have urged the federal government to introduce proposed amendments to the Copyright Act in the current parliamentary session. In a joint submission with other peak education organisations, the Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee endorsed the government's new "Digital Agenda Copyright" legislation but said the sooner it was enacted the better.

The committee says proposed amendments to the current copyright act ensure the balance between copyright owners and users of copyright material that exists for print media is extended into the digital environment.

Australian publishers and authors say that if the bill is enacted, the balance will tip too far in favour of copyright users. The Copyright Agency Limited (a copyright collecting agency for publishers and authors) argues that the new bill misunderstands the new technology and will limit the rights of copyright owners.

But AVCC deputy executive director John Mullarvey says early adoption of the new act will provide a much needed set of ground rules for owners and users of copyright. Mr Mullarvey says changes are needed to the wording of the act but any delay in introducing the legislation could prove costly.

"The government has basically got the policy behind the draft bill right. It would be a mistake to hold up introduction of the bill on the assumption that all of the details can be got right permanently," he said.

Three years ago, the AVCC went to the Copyright Tribunal - a statutory authority which determines copyright fees - seeking to have rates set for digital copying. Last December, the tribunal decided the fee of 3.5 cents a page for copying from a book should be raised to four cents this year but it made no decision regarding digital copying. The AVCC has now sought a ruling from the federal court to oblige the tribunal to consider that issue.

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