by Don Groves
The House of Representatives this week passed legislation which extends the operation of the safe harbour scheme to institutions in the educational, cultural and disability sectors.
Crucially the Copyright Amendment (Services Providers) Bill 2017 does not extend the safe harbour protections to commercial service providers including search engines.
A broad coalition of rights holder groups had urged the government not to extend the safe harbour immunities to commercial service providers without any new obligations and, eventually, to exclude them from the Bill's protections all together.
Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield, said the new legislation will improve copyright protections for the disability, educational and cultural sectors and facilitate more confident use of digital technologies and tools, particularly in the digital education environment.
"The safe harbour scheme will protect these sectors from legal liability where they can demonstrate they have taken reasonable steps to reduce copyright infringement on their online systems or networks," Fifield said.
"Schools and universities play a vital role in providing services to millions of students and staff every day. Classrooms are increasingly interactive and connected, with virtually every aspect of education today involving some use of digital technology."
The Bill will help nearly 9,500 primary and secondary schools and 41 universities across Australia to provide digital services to their 3.5 million schools and more than 1.3 million higher education students.
Libraries, archives and key cultural institutions will also have greater flexibility to provide vital connectivity services and support to millions of Australians, including caching user searches, hosting social media content, and providing Internet access.
Welcoming the changes, Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association CEO Simon Bush thanked the government for getting the balance right, ensuring that the content industry can continue to invest and produce quality Australian stories.
"We argued strongly that the safe harbour scheme should not be expanded to include areas where companies are active participants in the Internet such as search engines who control what people see in terms of targeted advertising and the search results hierarchy which can aid and abet film piracy," Bush said.
"Safe harbours should and do provide appropriate protections for our ISPs - the internet's "pipes" - and now the education, cultural and disability sectors have the same protections against liability but these protections should only be given to those who don't profit from Internet piracy."
The Bill will come into effect six months after it receives royal assent.