Traditionally, we think about copyright in the context of protecting the works and the rights of authors and other creators.
But the law also exists to protect the access rights of the public.
Most discussions about copyright law centre on the author or creator. Copyright is not often approached from the point of view of the ‘public domain’.
That’s where Professor David Lindsay’s new book (co-authored with UNSW’s Professor Graham Greenleaf) is different. It explores the issue from the public’s point of view; what can be legally accessed for free and what are the various impediments to access.
Professor Lindsay says they have placed the users of works and their ‘rights’ in the foreground, not the background.
We regard the public domain as not just important but essential: for intellectual development, for public discourse and, not least for replenishing the sources which nourish creativity.
The book poses the question - How far can you go without having to ask for permission? It accepts the need for author’s rights but identifies 15 categories where the public can make use of material without having to ask.
The research also explores the complicated terrain of international copyright law and the constraints it imposes on local law.
There’s a complex patchwork of international agreements which constitute international copyright law and they are based on the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works which dates back to 1886.
The book makes a wide range of reform recommendations including excluding government legislation and legal judgments from copyright and extending the exceptions for ‘freedom of expression’ use.
It gives a more complete understanding of copyright law by emphasizing that the recognition of ‘public rights’ must sit alongside the protection of authors’ rights.