Copyright infringement immunities could be extended to online service providers in Australia

Out-Law News | 26 Apr 2017 | 2:20 pm | 1 min. read

Australian law could be updated to better protect online service providers from being held liable for copyright infringing activities carried out by their users.

The Australian government has announced that it plans to consult on changes to the country's Copyright Act which would extend existing 'safe harbour provisions' that internet service providers (ISPs) currently enjoy to online service providers.

In a statement, minister for communications Mitch Fifield said: "An expanded safe harbour regime would provide a useful mechanism for rights holders to have material that infringes their copyright removed from online service providers. An expanded regime would also ensure that service providers are not held responsible for the infringing actions of their users, provided they take reasonable steps to take down material that infringes copyright."

Fifield said the issue of whether or not the safe harbour provisions in Australian copyright law should be extended to online service providers has been "the subject of inquiry and public debate for over a decade". Most recently, the Productivity Commission in Australia recommended the reforms in a report published late last year.

The minister said the forthcoming consultation will offer stakeholders a chance to relay any concerns they have about the potential change to the law.

"The government’s intention is to develop safe harbour legislation that encourages the growth of Australia’s digital economy, supports a thriving and vibrant creative sector, while supporting the interests of copyright holders," Fifield said.

The consultations will take place in the form of meetings and roundtable discussions with stakeholders led by Dr Heather Smith, secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts. Dr Heather is due to make recommendations to the government on whether and how to take forward the proposals by early June.

In the EU, the E-Commerce Directive protects service providers from liability for material that they neither create nor monitor but simply store or pass on to users of their service. The Directive says that service providers are generally not responsible for the activity of customers and that member states must not put service providers under any general obligation to police illegal activity on its service.

Service providers are not liable for infringement via their services if they do not have "actual knowledge" or an awareness of the illegal activity. In circumstances where they obtain such knowledge, providing a service provider "acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access to the information" they are not liable for that infringement.