Copyright and Computer Generated Materials – Is it Time to Reboot the Discussion About Authorship?
Computer generated materials are ubiquitous and we encounter them on a daily basis, even though most people are unaware that this is the case. Blockbuster movies, television weather reports and telephone directories all include material that is produced by utilising computer technologies. Copyright protection for materials generated by a programmed computer was considered by the Federal Court and Full Court of the Federal Court in Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd. The court held that the White and Yellow pages telephone directories produced by Telstra and its subsidiary, Sensis, were not protected by copyright because they were computer-generated works which lacked the requisite human authorship.
The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) does not contain specific provisions on the subsistence of copyright in computer-generated materials. Although the issue of copyright protection for computer-generated materials has been examined in Australia on two separate occasions by independently-constituted Copyright Law Review Committees over a period of 10 years (1988 to 1998), the Committees’ recommendations for legislative clarification by the enactment of specific amendments to the Copyright Act have not yet been implemented and the legal position remains unclear. In the light of the decision of the Full Federal Court in Telstra v Phone Directories it is timely to consider whether specific provisions should be enacted to clarify the position of computer-generated works under copyright law and, in particular, whether the requirement of human authorship for original works protected under Part III of the Copyright Act should now be reconceptualised to align with the realities of how copyright materials are created in the digital era.
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