The Attorney-General's Department has denied its "in-depth analysis" of Safe Harbour provisions is a duplication of a similar review first flagged some 18 months ago by the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE).
(Protected harbor image by James Diggans, CC2.0)
The study announced by Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland in a speech on Friday, will consider whether service providers such as Google, Yahoo and YouTube should be included in Safe Harbour laws, as is the case in the United States, which means they will be offered legal protections if they help copyright holders stamp out piracy.
The Safe Harbour scheme was introduced in 2004 under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement. The scheme generally requires internet service providers to terminate the accounts of repeat infringers, but only under court order and not merely on the basis of claims by rights holders.
The Attorney-General's Department denied its review will duplicate the preceding work by DBCDE, which received industry submissions on Safe Harbour reform in early 2009.
The Attorney-General's Department told ZDNet Australia that its review is focused on Safe Harbour provisions in the Copyright Act, while the former study examined copyright as it relates to the wide-sweeping Convergence Review.
"There are some issues that have arisen from" the definition of Safe Harbour, McClelland said of the review on Friday. "For example, the definition excludes entities that do not provide network access but provide online services — Google and Yahoo are obvious examples of this category."
DBCDE wrote in 2009 that "it is unclear whether the present scheme works effectively for some types of online service providers that have subsequently grown in popularity since the scheme's introduction, and also pointed to Google and Yahoo.
The two search engine giants asked in their 2009 submissions to the department that they be protected by Safe Harbour, while the International Intellectual Property Alliance, the Australian Performing Right Association, the Australian Recording Industry Association and the Australian Publishers Association argued strongly against expansion of the law.
The laws have been thrown into the spotlight during the high-profile legal stoush between internet provider iiNet and a string of Hollywood studios.
The Attorney-General's Department will follow DBCDE and release consultation papers on the reform.
McClelland also flagged a review of laws preventing the circumvention of digital protection measures in special instances.
"[Exemptions for circumvention] include for law enforcement and national security, interoperability of computer software and encryption research," McClelland said. "However, the scheme also recognises that there may be other circumstances when there is a public interest in permitting additional exceptions. Currently there are no additional exceptions in place."
Those reviews could allow circumvention of protection measures for "certain education purposes", McClelland said.