A Shifting Empire
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A Shifting Empire

100 Years of the Copyright Act 1911

Edited by Uma Suthersanen and Ysolde Gendreau

The 1911 Copyright Act, often termed the ‘Imperial Copyright Act’, changed the jurisprudential landscape in respect of copyright law, not only in the United Kingdom but also within the then Empire. This book offers a bird’s eye perspective of why and how the first global copyright law launched a new order, often termed the ‘common law copyright system’.
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Chapter 3: The Imperial Copyright Act 1911 in Australia

Sam Ricketson


Australian policy makers and legislators have added greatly to the content and scope of our copyright laws over the past 30 years: it is now possible to speak, for better or worse, of a truly Australian law of copyright. While this reflects relevant international obligations, such as the Berne Convention, the TRIPS Agreement, and the 1996 WIPO Internet Treaties, and, more recently, bilateral trade agreements, it also contains locally conceived and executed solutions to particular problems, such as educational uses and reprographic reproduction, parallel importation controls, online uses and moral rights protection. In addition, it has an inimitable legislative drafting style that poses difficulties for local and foreign readers alike and that owes nothing to foreign models! This close involvement in copyright matters, however, is relatively recent for Australian legislators and policy-makers. By contrast, in the preceding period, Australian interest in such issues was sporadic and generally superficial. Our principal recourse was simply to apply UK enactments, even where these may not have been really relevant to Australian circumstances. Chief among these was the Copyright Act 1911 (UK) (the ‘1911 Act’), the focus of the present volume. The 1911 Act remained in force for nearly 60 years in Australia, even after its repeal in the United Kingdom. This may, of course, have been a sensible and prudent option for Australian legislators to take at the time. Alternatively, it may just have been an indication that copyright was a very low priority matter for them, and the 1911 Act represented a handy short cut.

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