Australia permits parallel importation of software


The federal Parliament has passed the Copyright Amendment (Parallel Importation) Bill 2002, which removes restrictions on the parallel importation of computer programs and games, as well as books, periodicals and sheet music in electronic form. The government had also targeted printed books, periodicals and sheet music for inclusion in the legislation, but these were removed after it entered into a deal with another major political party.

The new act includes the following new enforcement provisions:

  • those allowing the courts, when determining a damages award for serious infringement, to take into account (among other things) the deterrence factor of the proposed award and the defendant's conduct after being made aware of the alleged infringement;

  • those allowing certain matters to be heard in the less formal Federal Magistrates Court;

  • those increasing penalties for the importation of infringing works; and

  • in relation to criminal prosecutions, those facilitating proof of subsistence and ownership of copyright works.

The new act was passed after a great deal of debate which attracted numerous submissions from interested industry groups and governmental organizations. The government maintained its longstanding view that the Copyright Act created a lucrative distribution monopoly, allowing higher prices to be charged for protected material. The Australian consumer watchdog, the Competition and Consumer Commission, strongly supported this position. Copyright owners, however, opposed the new act, arguing that its overwhelming effect will be to increase the flow of pirated products into Australia and make detection and prosecution of piracy more difficult.

For background information on the bill, see Australia plans new law for parallel imports.

Alistair Payne, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Sydney

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