Critics Debate Proposed Australian Copyright Law

John Stuart
SYDNEY, Australia — Critics of a copyright proposal in Australia have warned that its passage could result in serious penalties to users of video sharing sites like YouTube.

The proposed law, which is currently being debated in Australian Parliament, would make it an indictable offense for someone merely to possess a device with the intention of using it to infringe copyright. Under Australian law, all indictments must go before the justice system. The existing system allows copyright infringements to be settled by paying damages to the copyright holder without involvement of the courts.

“It has the potential to make everyday Australians in homes and businesses across the country into criminals on a scale that we have not witnessed before,” said Brian Fitzgerald, head of Queensland University’s law school. “The proposal could potentially cover a 14-year-old girl videoing herself lip-synching to her favorite pop tune and uploading this to a video-sharing website.”

Electronic Frontiers Australia, a free speech advocacy group, said the proposal also extends the list of items potentially used for copyright theft to include video players, music players, home computers and other personal devices.

“One section [of the proposal] would arguably make distribution of copyright material via the Internet a criminal offense, even where the person responsible had not intended such distribution to occur,” the group said in a statement.

Attorney General Philip Ruddock has not responded to these claims but has said the proposed law is intended to catch and punish major music and movie pirates, not personal users.

Politicians and experts are debating the proposal in Parliament before a final version is put to vote, which is expected to be some time next year.