What we can learn from Australian copyright policy
I generally do not consider myself an expert on Australia but if you ask me, there is at least one thing the Australians do much better than the Europeans. As it turns out, the Australians have regular reviews of their copyright act. Every couple of years, the existing legal system is being reviewed, which gives all sorts of stakeholders the chance to argue that there is a need for changes (or that everything is fine and no changes are necessary). Eventually, a review can result in changes to the legal framework.
Compare this to the European situation where we have an endless discussion about the question whether a review of the legislative framework should be done or not. While this sounds like a rhetorical question (keep in mind that the last substantial changes to the EU copyright framework date from 2001), reviewing (and possibly modernizing) the legislative framework is something that is strongly opposed by the content industries. E.g. the Federation of European Film Directors speaks about the 'Damocles sword of legislative intervention' in a recent statement arguing against reform).
So, while Europe is stuck in an seemingly endless discussion about the question whether reviewing our aging legislative framework is something that should be done or not, the Australians are in the middle of such a review. The current review seems to be a rather heated affair mainly focussing on the issue of the introduction of a fair use exception into the Australian copyright law.
Australia currently has a system of fair dealing exceptions that are very similar to the European system, which allows specific uses of copyrighted works without the permission of the rights holder as long as they are described in the law. Such a system is inherently less flexible than a fair use exception, since it can only allow uses that have been known at the time of adopting the law. In a fast changing technological environment this lack of flexibility is bound to create problems unless the list of exceptions is constantly reviewed.
Some Australian proponents of a fair use exception (the Creationistas) have just released a short video clip making their case. The 4 minute clip is well-worth watching as it explains both the shortcomings of the existing system and the benefits of a fair use exception:
While we are still far from having a discussion about how the Europeana copyright system should be reformed, it will be very interesting to see how the current discussion in Australia ends. As the video shows, there are a number of merits to a more flexible approach that would also apply to the European situation.