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Monday, June 25, 2007


Copyright Agency Limited v State of New South Wales

Some readers may be aware of my interest in all-things-Crown copyright, so when the Full Federal Court of Australia handed down its decision in one of the very few Australian cases on Crown copyright a few weeks ago, I knew that I should get blogging. I realise that just saying the words 'Crown copyright' means that I may have lost some readers entirely, so let's go back to basics...

What's Crown copyright? Crown copyright is essentially government-owned copyright. This means that the government owns the copyright in those particular works, like a company might own copyright, or I own copyright in this blogpost. In addition to general works, governments also own copyright in legislation and case law that is produced by the Parliament or judiciary in that particular jurisdiction. Pursuant to Division 1 Part VII of the Copyright Act, Crown copyright subsists in:

In 2005, the now-dissolved Copyright Law Review Committee released a report on the Australian Crown copyright provisions and made a number of significant recommendations, including the repeal of sections 176-178 and that copyright in primary legal materials (and a number of other government documents, for example, certain Committee reports) be abolished. The Federal Government is yet to reply to the recommendations made by the Committee.

Is Crown copyright available everywhere? Many countries do not have Crown or government copyright: for example, in the United States, "copyright not available any work of the United States Government" (17 U.S.C section 105). This means that all government produced works, legislation, case law etc is technically in the public domain (with some scholars arguing that, because of this fact, the 'public domain' takes on an additional significance, because copyright law cannot impede the use and wider reuse of these materials.)

What was CAL v State of New South Wales [2007] FCAFC 80 about? In two words: surveyor plans. Pursuant to a number of NSW statutes, survey plans have to follow certain requirements in order to be registered in NSW. These survey plans are also reproduced for certain purposes by the NSW Government and stored in a database. CAL went to the Copyright Tribunal seeking a determination pursuant to sections 183 and 183A of the Copyright Act as to the amount of royalties that the NSW Government should have to pay to the copyright owners for use of particular plans. However, the State of NSW argued that it was the copyright owner under sections 176 (the plans were made under its direction or control) and 177 (it was the first to publish the plans, therefore, under this section, it owned the copyright). The case was referred to the Federal Court of Australia, where the Full Bench made a determination.

What did the Court find about Crown copyright? The Federal Court found that Crown copyright did not subsist in the survey plans in question under either section 176 and 177. Therefore, the Crown did not own the copyright in these particular plans.

Does that mean the State of NSW lost? The Court found that while Crown copyright did not subsist in the plans, the State was entitled to a licence, beyond what was permitted under section 183 of the Copyright Act, allowing it reproduce and communicate the plan in question to the public. The Court found that the “State is licensed to do everything that, under the statutory and regulatory framework that governs registered plans, the State is obliged or authorised to do with or in relation to registered plans.” (at 158).

What was interesting about the case? To me, the glaring omission was the fact that the court did not discuss the recommendation of the CLRC in its final Crown Copyright report that sections 176 and 177 actually be repealed. There are two issues here. First, it is understandable that the Court may have been reluctant to engage in any discussion of whether the Federal Government should or should not repeal these provisions given that the Government is yet to respond to the review. Second, however, the Court did not even mention the fact that the CLRC had conducted a review into Crown copyright and made a recommendation regarding these provisions. While some may consider that irrelevant to the current point at hand, it seems to me that if you are discussing provisions of the Copyright Act that might not be around in a year, it may be worth mentioning that fact.

Will the decision be appealed? According to this CAL press release, "CAL is considering the decision and will decide on our next move in the next few weeks." Let's all chant softly, "High Court! High Court! High Court!"

How do you know all this?
Copyright Agency Limited v State of New South Wales [2007] FCAFC 80 (5 June 2007)
"Court decides surveyors own copyright in maps and plans", CAL News Release.
Catherine Bond, "Reconciling Crown Copyright and Reuse of Government Information: An Analysis of the CLRC Crown Copyright Review", (2007) 12 Media & Arts Law Review (forthcoming), available on SSRN as part of the UNSW Faculty of Law Research Series here.

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Blogger cearta said:
Hi Catherine,

I'm not a fan of state copyright either, but the Irish government decided to assert it in 2000: see ss 191-195 (and also s36) of the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000.

Blogger Andrew Harvey said:
Very interesting. Is there anything an individual can do to try get the federal government to publish a response to CLRC's Crown Copyright report?
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