Detaining (digital) immigrants: Rethinking digital literacy learning (Cross-posted)

Posted on 25 June 2014

This is a cross-post of a blog entry I contributed to the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) Sydney’s blog for
Blog Every Day in June.

Rcently I was having a conversation with a 77 year old woman about digital technology. She was almost aggressively resistant to ‘those technologies’, asserting that she knew ‘nothing about them’ and ‘wasn’t interested in them’. After a carefully managed exchange, I threw a question to her that changed the direction of our conversation: Do you have a digital television? Of course she did, broadcasting in Australia is now digital only. I followed up by asking if she could find the shows she wanted to watch when she wanted to watch them. When she said, ‘Yes’, I informed her that she had digital literacy skills, because she can navigate to broadcast content using the menu of her digital television. Even the most technology resistant person has some digital literacy.

This kind of scenario is illustrative of one of my concerns with digital literacy learning opportunities. Many of the opportunities currently available require prior digital knowledge before attending (even without realising it). This requisite prior knowledge creates a barrier to attendance and fails to adequately accommodate the breadth of digital literacy learners, especially those who have low literacy.

But I am jumping ahead of myself. The backstory is this: I recently became the first Digital Producer at Regional Arts Australia (RAA), the key national body representing those working with and for the arts in regional and remote Australia. The role performs a lot of functions, including to increase digital literacy—knowledge about and the use of digital technologies such as computers, smartdevices and the internet—in the arts in regional, remote and very remote Australia by the end of 2014. That’s a huge task!

Of course, there are a number constraints on the Project: time, money and distance are the obvious ones. I simply cannot travel to every region in Australia to deliver digital literacy learning opportunities (even if I thought that were the best method of doing so). This left me wondering what I can do to genuinely increase digital literacy in the arts in regional Australia? I knew I had to narrow the scope of what RAA was going to do, but where should the lines be drawn?

It’s worth also nothing that I am a stats geek, so any decisions I was going to make were going to be informed by data. It started out with internet access data. From reading Australian SMEs in the digital economy, Report 1 of Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Communications report 2012–13 series, I found out that 13.15 million adult Australians had access to a broadband connection in their home as of June 2013. That represents a 7 per cent increase from the previous year and a 46 per cent increase since June 2008.

Smartphone and tablet penetration is equally telling. Over 11.19 million adult Australians were using a smartphone at May 2013; a 29 per cent increase from the previous year. Add to this the 4.37 million adult Australians using a tablet as of May 2012 (as reported in Smartphones and tablets Take-up and use in Australia, Report 3 of ACMA’s Communications report 2011–12 series), and you have a lot of people with internet-capable devices. And they are getting online! Of those 11.19 million people with a smartphone, 7.5 million of them had used the internet on their handset; up 33 per cent from May 2012 and a huge 510 per cent since June 2008!

Not only do Australian adults have more internet access points in their lives, but the frequency with which they are accessing the internet is increasing as well. During June 2013, 65 per cent of Australian adult internet users went online more than once a day (according to ACMA’s Australian SMEs in the digital economy Report). In other words 10.81 million Australian adults went online more than once a day during June last year; a 7 per cent increase from the June 2012 and a 72 per cent increase since June 2008.

It probably won’t surprise you that 18 to 24 year olds and 25 to 34 year olds collectively make up 48 per cent of that 10.81 million internet users accessing the internet more than once a day. But it might surprise you to know that the percentage increase in frequency of internet use per day in the other age groups was not so different to younger users. The table below outlines the increase since June 2008 in internet users in each age group using the internet more than once a day.

 

Age group % increase since
June 2008
18–24 years 27%
25–34 years 21%
34–44 years 19%
45–54 years 12%
55–64 years 15%
65+ years 10%

Source: Report 1—Australian SMEs in the digital economy, Communications report 2012–13 series, Australian Communications and Media Authority, January 2014.

 

The number of home internet connections and internet-capable devices is increasing, and so is the frequency of internet use. Layer over this the average age of residents in regional towns and some interesting questions start to arise.

Lots of areas of regional Australia have an older population, in part because of young people moving from regional areas to larger population centres in search of employment, education, opportunities and experiences. While there seems to be an increasing return migration to the regions, it is undoubted that a majority of potential digital literacy learners in regional areas will be older people.

So if the digital natives—‘native speakers’ of digital language who demonstrate an inherent digital literacy derived from growing up ‘… surrounded by and using computers, video [and console] games, digital music players, video cams, [mobile] phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age’—have moved out of regional areas, shouldn’t digital learning opportunities in those areas cater to the needs of digital immigrants?

Marc Prensky, who coined the term digital immigrants, describes them as people born pre-digital who have, to a greater or lesser extent, ‘… adopted many or most aspects of the new technology’. But many of the digital learning opportunities I have identified when doing research for this Project required a requisite level of literacy before undertaking them. Take a workshop on Twitter for example; a desire to attend is likely underpinned by an idea of what Twitter is and an idea of how or what it might do for you. If you don’t know one or both of these things, you aren’t likely to register (if you were even aware the workshop was being run at all!) and a barrier to digital literacy learning is created.

Through a series of informal interviews, I identified a number of other barriers that can inhibit individuals from increasing their digital literacy. These include:

  • Entrenched behaviour—The ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ mentality is often relied on when avoiding digital literacy learning. Often categorised by statements such as, ‘What we currently do works just fine’.
  • Lack of time—Either genuinely not having the time or using not having the time as an excuse to avoid digital literacy learning (especially when coupled with other barriers). Often categorised by statements such as, ‘I would learn how to use Twitter, but I don’t have the time’.
  • Lack of interest—Either a genuine lack of interest or using a lack of interest as an excuse to avoid digital literacy learning (especially when coupled with other barriers). Often categorised by statements such as, ‘I am not interested in Facebook’.
  • Lack of relevance—A feeling that the outcomes of digital literacy learning are not relevant to the Learner. This can sometimes be used as an excuse to avoid digital literacy learning (especially when coupled with other barriers) and is directly tied to a lack of leadership and a lack of awareness of the potential of digital literacy. Often categorised by statements such as, ‘I don’t need to use Facebook, I get on fine without it’.
  • Lack of access—A lack of access to the internet; a lack of access to digital technologies and/or a lack of access to social platforms. Even where access exists, connectivity profiles that suffer from low bandwidth and/or unreliable network fidelity can act as a barrier. Also internet access policies such as workplace internet-usage restrictions can also act as a barrier.
  • Lack of leadership—In some sectors, a lack of exemplars can act as a barrier. Often categorised by statements such as, ‘No one else is doing it’.
  • Lack of awareness of potential—A lack of exemplars can also lead to a lack of awareness of the potential of digital technologies, which in turn can act as a barrier.
  • Fear—Fear is one of the most significant barriers. It could be fear of change, fear of doing things differently, fear of making more work for oneself, fear of being left behind, fear of repercussions (such as job loss), fear of ‘not getting it’ or fear of ‘looking stupid’ for not knowing. These all act as a significant barrier to initiating digital literacy learning.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to design a digital literacy learning method that had lower requisite prior knowledge and was more responsive to the needs of digital immigrants. I wanted it to be face-to-face and focused on responding to people’s specific needs. Also, it was important to me that this opportunity was not a one-off, but would act as an entry point for self-directed digital learning. These principles led me to the decision to facilitate a series of Digital Drop-in events to provide informal digital literacy learning opportunities and develop a Knowledge Base to guide and support self-directed digital literacy learning.

From the end of July till the end of 2014, RAA will be co-hosting Digital Drop-in events. Each Drop-in is designed to be informal but informative. They will be casual, community-led, face-to-face, peer-learning opportunities. The idea is simple: registered Learners sit down over a cup of tea with a member of their community who has digital expertise (the Digital Talent) and ask any question related to digital technologies they like. The Digital Talent provides them with an answer to their specific question. And the whole exchange is held at an organisation, venue or event in the local area.

Of course, this method works best where informative answers to the questions can be given, which is difficult with large groups. So I have designed the standard composition of a session to adhere to this formula: a 60 minute session can accommodate no less than four but no more than six registered Learners, factored on a ratio of two questions per Learner and four to six minutes response time per question.

Although this is not to say there is no flexibility. Depending on the resources, capacity and interest of the Partner and the availability of the Digital Talent, a Drop-in event may include more sessions, sessions of a longer duration and/or more Digital Talent in order to accommodate more Learners. This approach is designed to allow for responsive programming of Digital Drop-in events while ensuring that events meet certain minimum requirements.

To supplement and expand on the Digital Drop-in events, RAA will also produce a Knowledge Base of digital topics. I will not be producing new resources, the time and cost of producing such resources is not feasible and, for a lot of topics likely to come up, useful, well-written resources already exist online. For many Learners it can be difficult to know where to start. If information is not pitched at a level appropriate to the Learner they may become overwhelmed, confused and frustrated; which does not lead to a fulfilling self-directed digital literacy learning outcome.

To avoid a lengthy production process and unnecessary duplication of existing resources, entries to RAA’s Knowledge Base will include a short paragraph of contextual information, examples of the use of that technology in the arts, and a list of recommended external resources ranked in recommended priority order to make it easier for Learners to identify what resources to read in what order. Using case studies and a wayfinding approach, we aim to provide a set of easy-to-produce resources that help Learners to establish foundational literacy in a way that is sympathetic to their incremental learning.

Initial topics covered in the Knowledge Base will be identified and prioritised based on the frequency they are asked about at Digital Drop-in events. This will ensure that the most requested information by Low or no literacy Learners is prioritised in order to reinforce learnings taken away from the Digital Drop-in events and ensure Drop-ins do not become a one-off intervention.

We are still finalising dates and locations but details will be announced soon. If you are interested in co-hosting a Drop-in, providing your digital expertise at a session or attending a session, please get in touch with me by emailing digitalproducer@regionalarts.com.au.

 

↷ Here’s what is referenced in this post:

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Better late with iOS 8

Posted on 3 June 2014

Much of the announcements made at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) overnight point to catch ups to services provided by other parties. I am not saying everything was derivative though (you’ll have wait for a follow-up post for that), but there is a lot of iOS 8 that will bring ‘the world’s most advanced mobile operating system’ up-to-speed. And the same goes for OS X Yosemite.

 

iCloud Drive

iCloud, Apple’s cloud storage and computing service, has been expanded to be a full function file locker. Since the early days of the service (back when it was MobileMe and .Mac before that) it has been a cloud sync service, backing up data such as email, contacts, calendars, to-do lists, iWork documentsiTunes music,  across OS X and iOS, as well as photos, videos, app data, SMS, iMessage messages, device settings, and other data generated on iOS devices (iOS 5 or later). But the extended functionality coming with iCloud Drive is clearly a move designed to make Apple’s service competitive with established services like Dropbox and Google Drive.

Like its competitors, the updated iCloud allows you to browse iCloud files through Finder on OS X and through the clunky process of opening iCloud files through any iOS app that uses iCloud storage (at least until an iCloud Drive or Finder app in released for iOS). You can manage files as well, including creating new folders and drag-and-drop file syncing. It also allows you to tags files for faster search.

And with a competitive pricing structure—5 GB with an iCloud account; US$0.99/month for  20 GB; US$3.99/month for 200 GB; and an as yet unspecified amount for up to 1 TB—iCloud Drive is an important extension of their services for Apple but it’s no Dropbox or Google Drive-killer. Especially given the issues with the service to date.

Also worth noting was the discussion about AirDrop allowing file sharing between iOS devices and Macs. But with drag-and-drop syncing with iCloud Drive isn’t this redundant?

 

Smart home

As part of the 4,000 new APIs that developers will have access to as part of iOS 8 is a set of APIs collectively called HomeKit. It will allow developers to create control functions for smart home devices such as garage door openers, lights and security cameras that are integrated into iOS rather than needing a stand-alone app. While Apple has a string of partners on board, it was pretty obvious Nest, Google’s recent smart home devices acquisition, wouldn’t be on that list.

 

Photos and videos

The new Photos app that will come with iOS 8 will sync photos and videos from iOS to a new iCloud Photo Library on your Mac. Of course, Picasa Web Albums and/or Google+ Auto Backup have been doing the same thing for Android users for a long time.

The new app will also include editing tools. And with real-time syncing and ‘non-destructive’ editing, edits from one device are viewable and reversible from another device (which is cool!). Unfortunately the editing functions won’t be on desktop ‘until early 2015′ and photos count to your iCloud storage limit.

 

Notifications and Siri

Clearly inspired by interactive notifications that have been part of Android’s notification shade since Jelly Bean, Apple will introduce interactive notifications in the Notification Centre with iOS 8, including notifications for third-party apps. A number of the new types of notifications coming have been part of Google Now since it launched, including flight information and dinner reservations.

But they have taken it a step further than Android. While functions such as archiving an email or snoozing an event reminder are initiated from within the notification, other features such as commenting on a Facebook or Google+ post launch the corresponding app. By the look of things, a lot more functions, such as replying to an SMS, will happen within the notification.

And soon you’ll be able to get notifications on Mac as well. That is of course if you aren’t already getting Google Now notifications in Chrome.

Apple have also taught Siri a few new tricks to bring her up to speed with other intelligent personal assistance. With iOS 8 you will be able to activate Siri with the voice prompt, ‘Hey, Siri’, just like saying ‘Ok, Google’ on Android or when using Chrome. And Shazam integration will allow her to to identify songs that are playing, just like the Sound Search for Google Play integrated search and widget.

 

Health and fitness

While Google Now has been showing you Activity Summaries that compare your walking and cycling activities each month, but Apple’s Health app in iOS 8 are clearly designed to go up against Samsung’s S Health app. Like S Health, iOS 8 will track your fitness, sleep and food intake as well as heart rate, calories, blood sugar and cholesterol. And Apple wants to share data with third-party health apps through the HealthKit APIs which is part of the iOS 8 SDK.

It looks like Health will take things further than S Health with the inclusion of other information such as medication you are taking and lab results. Another addition is a Medical ID including emergency information such as your doctor’s contact details, allergies you have and medication you are taking, accessible from the lock screen.

 

Swipe for mail

With iOS 8, the Mail app introduces swipe gestures including right swipe for ‘mark as unread’ and left swipe for flagging, moving or trashing email. If Dropbox aren’t concerned about iCloud Drive competing with their namesake product, they might be a little more concerned that these new swipe gestures are muscling in on their Mailbox‘s turf.

 

Search

Spotlight on both iOS and OS X Yosemite will soon include search results from your iTunes collection, as well as other relevant results. Trending news, places nearby and movies times, as well as music, movies and books on Google Play are part of the integrated Google Search on Android and Google Now (plus a bunch of others cards). In fact, many of them are part of Google Search on iOS too.

 

Other features

On top of the big announcements during the WWDC keynote, there are a number of other features coming with iOS 8 that weren’t mentioned but which also borrow from other players:

  • Battery managementThe Verge is reporting that iOS 8 will allow you to view battery usage by app. This has been a Settings feature in Android from the early days.
  • Travel time notifications—Also according to The Verge, notifications on how long it will take to get a an destination looks set to be part of iOS 8. That’s been a part of Google Now since it launched.
  • Multimedia messaging—As GIZMODO points out, the new features for iMessage, in particular in-line audio and video and increase group message controls is Apple’s attempt to take on What’s App and other messenger services. And the ‘self destruct’ message is after Snapchat‘s territory. And they are bringing all of this to Mac as well.
  • Image markup—Mail will have a new built-in editor for image attachments called Markup (which is separate to Preview). It will allow you to write and draw on images, resize them and add effects to them. Plus it automatically tidies up your drawings into clean lines. And being integrated with Mail, Evernote has to see it as an attack on Skitch.
  • File transfer—And if your new annotated images are too big to email, there is no need to go to WeTransfer or Hightail because Mail will automatically store attachments up to 5 GB in iCloud and make the available to download by your recipient. Google will undoubtedly be watching this closely, given Google Drive has a similar feature as well.

As I said, there were some new things to come out of the WWDC keynote, but a lot of what was held up as exciting updates is implementing ideas that have been available in different platforms for some time.

↷ Here’s what I have been reading about Apple’s announcements:

★ For a full list of links see bookmarks tagged ‘#WWDC14′ on my Delicious.

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TheCube

Inter-active: learnings from the first Digital Writing Residency

Posted on 27 February 2014

The act of writing is a solitary endeavour. Often, so is reading. Creating RobotUniversity—the first project produced through the Digital Writing Residency—was far from a solo effort. Presented across three projectors and 12 touch screens and using six Microsoft Kinect motion controllers, engaging with this interactive narrative is definitely a public affair.

The Residency, a joint initiative of the Queensland University of Technology and the Australia Council for the Arts, allows a writer to create a site-specific narrative project for The Cube, a digital interactive learning and display interface housed at the QUT Science and Engineering Centre in Brisbane.

‘Creating for this kind of environment is part writing, part digital development,’ explains inaugural residency recipient and project manager of Robot University, Dr Christy Dena, ‘but it requires rethinking both.’ ‘When you are an author, you spend most of your time alone, getting your ideas down. There’s a lot of flexibility,’ Dena explains, ‘You read over what you’ve written; refine some parts, remove others. Then you read over it again. Things change.’

But there are practicalities that come with presenting work on this kind of technology, at this scale, and in a public place. Add to this a six-month turnaround and you have a very different set of working conditions to what most writers are used to.

‘For starters, you are not working alone,’ Dena says, ‘You are directing a team of other creatives—that might include a programmer, sound designer, composer, concept artist, environmental artist, animator and a 3D modeller—to help you realise your project.’ Keeping your project on target becomes as much about managing the people as it is about creating the storyline. ‘One of the biggest challenges I find with digital projects is dividing time between writing and design tasks and organisational and creative directing duties,’ Dena said, ‘This means I never have dedicated writing time.’

Factor in the time that programing and development takes as well, and your writing time is even less. ‘Writing for an interactive experience isn’t as simple as saying, ‘I want it to do this’,’ Dena says, ‘Every movement, gesture, sound, no matter how small the action, takes your team of creators time to program, animate and render.’ This means locking down key aspects of the narrative, such as characters and setting, early in the project lifecycle.

‘There is a lot of risk associated with working this way,’ Dena says, ‘You’ve committed so much of the project before really knowing if anyone cares about what you’re making.’ There are a range of technical considerations: how people will interact with the screens (including their predisposition toward familiar pinch and swipe gestures common to smartdevices) as well as how they might respond to the narrative prompts on screen. Then add spatial considerations such as the natural circulation of people moving through the space and the desire paths they use to navigate, as well as factors such as natural light and ambient noise, and you have to be open to more than just guessing how things will work. While many writers labour over each word painstakingly before showing the finished product to anyone (even their editor!) Dena had to be more open to presenting early iterations.

Dena explains, ‘You can’t really work in an environment like this without being willing to release parts of the project.’ The idea of publishing your rough drafts on a public noticeboard would probably invoke an anxiety attack in many writers, but as Dena notes, ‘Creating on a large-scale environment like this means what we see on our desktop computers doesn’t correlate. So from day one playtesting was scheduled on a frequent basis. We put up the messy and awkward early.’ While Dena had some reservations about sharing work-in-development in other projects, this prototyping-led approach to creative development gave her an opportunity to surveil how people were reacting to the characters, settings, plot devices, and design as the project went on.

The Digital Writing Residency isn’t just a different way of writing. It represents a different way of designing and presenting immersive interactive experiences. ‘Robot University doesn’t follow the current interactivity conventions of The Cube,’ Dena says. But, for The Cube, that is the point.

‘The Cube uses interactive technologies and compelling projects to foster an interest in science, technology, engineering and math,’ says Lubi Thomas, Senior Curator at QUT and custodian of The Cube. ‘What we realised from the Residency was that hooking people into anything beyond surface-level shallow interactions needs narrative and storytelling,’ Thomas says, ‘Narrative allows for a deeper engagement through extending the time spent people spend with the work and facilitating a richer level of interaction. Having Christy here has shown us different approaches to project development and working methodologies that will enrich our own project process for The Cube.’

This evening Robot

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University will be officially launched at The Cube and is on public display from Friday 28 February at The Cube. Applications are now open for the next Digital Writing Residency. Applications close on Thursday 3 April 2014. The Literature Board of the Australia Council provides $20,000 to each residency.

This article was first published on Artery, published by the Australia Council

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for the Arts. Image: University installation, The Cube, QUT. Courtesy of QUT.

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Brandis not “persuaded” by fair use, wants three-strikes

Posted on 14 February 2014

Comments made this morning by the Attorney-General Senator George Brandis at the Australian Digital Alliance Forum at the National Library of Australia cast further doubt on the likelihood of fair use being introduced in Australia. Echoing comments he made in the Senate yesterday, Brandis’ renewed dismissal of fair use comes just one day after the tabling of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Copyright and the digital economy inquiry (ALRC Report 122) in Parliament. One of the recommendations made in the report is for the introduction of fair use. “I remain to be persuaded that [fair use] is the best direction for Australian law,” Brandis said.

While fair use has been taken off the table, Brandis did leave open other areas of reform of the Copyright Act. “I am convinced that we can do much to improve the way

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committing to a “shorter, simpler and easier to understand” Act under an Abbott Government. Brandis also pushed for a Copyright Act that is technology neutral.
Brandis also took the opportunity to target copyright piracy online. He flagged potential changes to intermediary liability, including placing more obligations on ISPs, as well as graduated response. Brandis also discussed introducing a Federal Court power to force ISPs to block access to infringing websites.
The full text of George Brandis’ speech is available on the ALRC website.

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ALRC release final report for copyright review, recommends fair use

Posted on 13 February 2014

The final report of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) copyright inquiry, Copyright and the digital economy (ALRC Report 122), has been tabled in parliament today. I haven’t read it in detail yet, but the big takeaway is the recommendation that, ‘The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) should provide an exception for fair use.’ While the recommendation to introduce fair use is the hot topic, the report also makes a number of recommendations in relation to other important areas, including:

  • statutory licences;
  • quotation;
  • private use and social use;
  • incidental or technical use and data and text mining;
  • libraries and archives;
  • orphan works;
  • education;
  • government use;
  • access for people with a disability;
  • retransmission of free-to-air broadcasts;
  • broadcasting; and
  • contracting out.

Attorney-General and Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis, has already reportedly labeled the report and its recommendations ‘controversial’. Brandis is opening tomorrow’s Australian Digital Alliance Forum at the National Library of Australia where Professor Jill McKeough, the ALRC Commissioner in charge of the Copyright and the digital economy inquiry is also speaking. I am in Canberra for the event.

The report, which comes after 18 months of consultation, was provided to the Attorney-General’s Department in late November last year. The ALRC has published its full report (HTML, PDF and ePub) and a summary report (PDF)

↷ Here’s what I have been reading about the ALRC Copyright and the digital economy inquiry:

★ For a full list of links see bookmarks tagged ‘#copyrev’ on my Delicious.

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