Captain Cook’s Diaries Free Thanks to Copyright Bill

Captain Cook’s diaries and Jane Austen’s letters will finally be freely available to all the world thanks to an important copyright bill introduced to Parliament today.

Australia’s libraries and archives are elated at the tabling of the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill. The Bill includes a number of important and overdue amendments that will dramatically free up how Australians can access and use copyright material.

The Bill ends antiquated provisions in the Australian Copyright Act that provide perpetual copyright for unpublished materials, no matter how old they are. As a result millions of historical manuscripts - from celebrity letters and diaries held by the National, State and Territory libraries and archives, to the thousands of theses at our universities - will be simultaneously freed into the public domain on 1 January 2019. This bounty will be a major boon for Australian artists, researchers, teachers, innovators and historians, as they gain access to materials that were previously locked unuseable behind overly strict copyright law.

The Bill also introduces important changes to enable equitable access to copyright material for Australians with a disability, removing wasteful and bureaucratic processes so that libraries and archives can ensure that all their clients can access the information and resources they need.

Finally, the Bill simplifies and updates outdated provisions that control how libraries and archives can preserve their collections for future generations, and how educators can make use of copyright material. These amendments add much needed flexibility to allow the adoption of best practice standards and new technologies, and will facilitate Australia becoming a world leader in the management and provision of its cultural materials.

We are disappointed to note that the Bill no longer includes the safe harbour amendments that appeared in the initial exposure draft. These amendments would have ensured that the libraries and archives which provide internet access to thousands of Australians daily have the same rights and protection as commercial ISPs in doing so. We note that these amendments were recommended by the Productivity Commission in their recent IP Inquiry, and we trust we will hear more about them as part of the Government’s response to this.

However, overall the Bill is a welcome start at the reforms needed to ensure that Australia’s copyright system works effectively for all Australians. 
 

Media Contact 
Jessica Coates: Jessica@digital.org.au