Upcoming Modifications to Copyright Legislation

This year, changes are being made to the Copyright Act to update copyright law for the digital age. Here you can find out what changes have been made.

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The copyright law will be changed shortly. After two years of consultation with stakeholders, the German government announced in August 2020 that it would publish a draft of the proposed changes to the copyright law later this year. Key changes include a new orphan works scheme, a new fair dealing exception for citations, and new exceptions for libraries and educational institutions. These suggestions emerge after the government recognized that copyright law has not adapted to our increasingly digital environment. These suggestions are designed to make it easier for people and certain institutions to use and access online materials. What do these changes to copyright law mean and how can they affect the use of copyrighted material?

Orphan Works

The proposed reforms aim to introduce a system of limited liability for the use of orphan works. An orphan work is work that has no identifiable author or whose author cannot be found.

The system allows the use of copyrighted material as long as two conditions are met. First, the user performed a “reasonably careful search” to identify or find the author. Second, “where possible, the work has been clearly attributed to the author”.

For example, let’s say you find an image on Google that you want to use on your business website. A person with the username “Fotografod” uploaded the image to Imgur.com. They tried to contact “photogod” to ask for permission but got no response from them. Then, by using this image and crediting your account to “Fotogod”, you are not infringing on copyright. If after a while of searching you can’t even find the uploader’s username, you’re still not infringing on copyright, since you did a “reasonably careful search” to find the author.

Should the copyright owner later notify us, the user will not be responsible for any previous use of the orphan work. In addition, the user can continue to use the orphan work on terms agreed with the copyright owner. If they cannot agree on the terms, the copyright holder can seek legal advice to stop future use of the orphanage.

New exception for using quotations

The proposed changes also allow educational institutions, government agencies, and other public interest or research institutions to quote from copyrighted material without infringing copyright law. This exemption is subject to the requirement that the company not use the offer in a commercial context. In addition, the use of the quote must be in accordance with normal fair practice (e.g. recognition of authors).

This means that if the company is using the offer as a tagline for their business, this exception is unlikely to apply. However, if a person uses a quote in a research report with correct citations for the author, this exception is likely to apply.

Update to the library and archive exception

The proposed changes also aim to update the library and archive copyright exception provisions to be technology neutral. Current law allows libraries to use copyrighted material without consent, as long as they adhere to certain conditions. These conditions include copy restrictions, such as: For example, allowing users to copy only one chapter of a book in the library.

The Proposals allow these library copyright exemptions to apply to digital material as well. However, the institution should take reasonable steps to prevent copyright infringement by users. For example, users in online portals may only be able to download a maximum of one chapter to their computer to access e-books. This proposal will clarify the law and make it easier for libraries to access their materials online.

Update on the educational exception

The proposals also aim to clarify the exception regarding the use of copyrighted material in educational institutions, including facilities outside of school, TAFE or university buildings. This is to enable the use of copyrighted teaching material during online classes.

In this way, educational institutions can better support remote and online learning.

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Streamlining of legal licensing by the government

The proposals are also intended to expand the licensing agreements between governments and general partnerships. Collecting societies are organizations that collect royalties from users of copyrighted material on behalf of copyright owners such as musicians, artists, and authors. This is usually achieved by providing users with a license to use the material against payment of money.

Under current law, the government’s legal licensing system only allows the copying of materials that have been licensed by collecting societies. The proposal is also intended to enable the government to communicate and display the copyrighted material.

In addition, the proposals seek to create a new exemption that will allow the government to use correspondence and material sent to the government for non-commercial purposes.

These changes explain the increased use of online communications and digital materials such as online fact sheets by government agencies. The streamlining of these licensing measures will reduce the administrative burden on government agencies to comply with copyright and licensing terms.

Problems with proposed changes

These proposed changes to copyright law will certainly make digital material easier to access and use. However, there is concern that these changes will weaken copyright owners control over their work. In a broader sense, these changes can make it more difficult for copyright holders to obtain compensation for using their work.

For example, the Arts Law Center issued a response to these proposed reforms stating, “Art law contradicts any measure to minimize the control creators have over their work … especially at a time when artists are under the COVID suffer heavily -19 pandemic “. The Arts Law goes on to claim that “copyright licensing remains one of the few ways creators can use their work financially” and “changes that allow greater access to creative work without compensation to artists are just another disadvantage for the sector “.

The precise practical effects of these reforms on the creative industries are not yet known. However, the proposed introduction of a number of new exceptions to copyright infringement may well result in copyright holders no longer receiving compensation for certain uses of their material. However, the proposed reforms have strong public interest benefits. Furthermore, such reforms are highly anticipated updates to copyright law that are responsible for the increasing digitization of our world. Accordingly, it is uncertain how responsive the government will be to these concerns.


The digital world has increasingly become the main source and platform for resources, information and communication. However, copyright law has remained out of date, creating uncertainties about how its provisions will apply to technological advancement. These proposed changes to the Copyright Act are designed to address those uncertainties by updating the act to make it easier for people to access and use materials online. After the government publishes the draft bill later this year, it will open a phase of consultation to address the above issues. Check out this section to find out exactly how these changes to copyright law are taking shape.

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