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National law reform: Copyright and the digital economy

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Cite as: October 2012 86 (10) LIJ, p.70.

New technology and consumer attitudes are affecting copyright law. 

The Attorney-General Nicola Roxon asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in June to inquire into and report on current and further desirable uses of copyright material in the context of the digital economy. The final report is to be delivered by 30 November 2013, and the ALRC’s initial Issues Paper ( raises a series of questions about how copyright law needs to be adapted to the current environment. The ALRC is seeking input on how new technology and communications, and consumer attitudes, are all affecting copyright law.

Copyright law is an important part of Australia’s digital infrastructure and is relevant to commercial, creative and cultural policy. For some time the Australian economy has been recognised as increasingly relying on moving from low-efficiency, labour-intensive industries to high-efficiency, knowledge-intensive industries involving cultural goods and services. Opportunities for innovation leading to national economic development are created by the emergence of new digital technologies. Policy makers face challenges in managing Australia’s transition from resources, agricultural and manufacturing, to other drivers of growth.

The digital economy has been defined by the Australian government as “the global network of economic and social activities that are enabled by information and communications technologies, such as the internet, mobile and sensor networks”.1 This includes conducting communications, financial transactions, education, entertainment and business using computer, phones and other devices. Australia has competitors in the digital economy, being comparable countries that have also recently adopted a focus on promoting a local digital economy. The ALRC inquiry is part of ensuring the Australian environment is able to encourage new opportunities within the digital economy ahead of the National Broadband Network rollout.

Copyright should be assisting where possible in the development of opportunities for Australian creators and not unduly hindering the development of new business models. The digital environment should support creation of copyright material so that rights holders benefit from having a population and economy capable of making productive use of ideas and information.

Part of the challenge for copyright law is how it might become better understood and more effectively communicated so as to enable Australians to be lawful digital citizens. Irrelevant laws, which do not fit with community practice and seem incapable of change, are not suitable for assisting in the development of an innovation-based economy. Another challenge is the tension between certainty, predictability of outcomes for established practice and understanding and the costs of building new understanding in the light of law reform.

The ALRC has identified eight policy parameters to guide the framework for reform. They are: promoting the digital economy; encouraging innovation and competition; recognising rights holders and international obligations; promoting fair access to and wide dissemination of content; responding to technological change; acknowledging new ways of using copyright material; reducing the complexity of copyright law; and promoting an adaptive, efficient and flexible copyright framework

The ALRC is interested in evidence of how Australia’s copyright law is affecting participation in the digital economy and what changes might be needed to allow Australian businesses and individuals to make the most of the digital environment. Submissions based on the questions in the Issues Paper can be made up until 16 November 2012.

For more information about the ALRC’s inquiry and to subscribe to the Copyright and the Digital Economy e-newsletter go to

JILL MCKEOUGH is the ALRC Commissioner in charge of the Copyright and Digital Economy Inquiry.

1. Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Australia’s Digital Economy: Future Directions (2009).


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