It feels like the inquiry into Australia's copyright laws by the Australian Law Reform Commission has been going on for years now. That's probably because it has, but this afternoon the ALRC finally handed down its full, meaty report on Australian copyright, and recommended that Fair Use clauses be added into law, along with a raft of other recommendations.
A campaign has been running to get Fair Use clauses added into the Copyright Act 1968 for some time.
Fair Use clauses basically allow people to sample or transform an original, copyrighted work for the purposes of comment, criticism or parody. This can all be done without getting the explicit permission of the original copyright owner, so you can't be sued for infringement under Fair Use for doing something like creating a meme and sharing it on Facebook as a simple example.
It's tough to define what "fair use" really is, and hundreds of hours have been spent arguing back and forth in courtrooms about its definition. That's the beauty of Fair Use: because lawmakers don't want to limit what could be Fair Use in a society where everything is being remixed, remastered and redistributed every second of every day, nobody wants to put a hard and fast limit on it.
As long as you don't take revenue away from or harm the producer or her work, then you can argue Fair Use. It's open to legal interpretation. Check out the video above for a more digestible explanation.
Australia has long been without vital Fair Use prescriptions in the Copyright Act, but with today's recommendations from the ALRC, that might be about to change.
The Commissioner of the Inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy, Professor Jill McKeough, said that Fair Use is "crucial in the digital economy".
"Fair use can facilitate the public interest in accessing material, encourage new productive uses, and stimulate competition and innovation. But fair use also protects the interests of writers, musicians, film-makers, publishers and other rights holders. It was very important that in an inquiry about exceptions to copyright, we not lose sight of the purpose of copyright law," she added.
The report also recommends that so-called "orphan works" for which copyright owners can't be found also become integrated into Fair Use legislation so that their value isn't lost over time.