UK copyright laws set for major re-vamp

The Hargreaves Review has made its debut, bringing with it calls to revamp current UK copyright laws which are out of step with the digital age.
Within the report, (PDF)  which was commissioned by the government last year, the most noticeable recommendations are to do with the way content is monitored on the internet.

There needs to be more of a consideration for consumers, says the report, rather than the current legislation which has given protection to copyright holders above all else. Author Professor Hargreaves stresses there must be a balance.

“Copying has become basic to numerous industrial processes, as well as to a burgeoning service economy based upon the internet,” the report says. “The UK cannot afford to let a legal framework designed around artists impede vigorous participation in these emerging business sectors.”

According to Kim Walker, partner in the IP team at law firm Pinsent Masons and contributor at Out-Law, the report has taken the clever decision to cast aside any overwhelming American influence in copyright law.

“Hargreaves’ decision not to recommend an American-style ‘fair-use’ defence to copying works is good for rights holders and entrepreneurs alike,” Walker said to TechEye. “Leaving law-making to litigation by asking judges, rather than legislation, decide whether copyright use constitutes ‘fair use’ or not was not going to assist anyone but the rich.” 

The recommendation is also notably supported by the Creative Coalition Campaign, which said the rejection of the fair use policy means investment in the UK’s creative industries could continue.

Also welcomed by Mr Walker was the recommendation that the UK set up a system to make it easier for copyright owners and potential resellers to negotiate rights. This so called
Digital Copyright Exchange would be a digital marketplace where licences in copyright content can be readily bought and sold.

“The recommendation for the world’s first Digital Copyright Exchange should impact positively on establishing who owns the copyright in a work, and therefore positively affect how works are shared and licensed,” Walker said.

“The aim to grant easier and quicker access to copyright for SMEs and include access to ‘orphan works’ should assist everyone to stay on the right side of the law,” he added.

However, Walker points out that it will be interesting to see how this operates in practice. And whether the holders would be persuaded, or even compelled, to move away from their own copyright management and licensing systems.

But Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive at the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), questions the “practicalities, scope and costs of the proposed digital copyright exchange.” Taylor says “the various exceptions proposed and the expanded role for the IPO will require careful scrutiny.”

Another positive, Walker at Pinsent Masons says, is changing copyright laws to enable format shifting.

Currently the law means it’s illegal to burn CDs to a hard drive, but by changing the laws the UK matches the rest of Europe, which generally recognises the “reality of music use across multiple devices.”

Although the BPI has been unpopular with its views on music copyright, its Chief Exec Geoff Taylor says it’s a good thing.

“We support the objective of making it legal for consumers to transfer the music they have purchased onto their own devices and will work with Government to ensure this is implemented in a way that respects the rights of music creators,” Taylor said.

Another hot topic in the report is the government’s IP policy decisions – which need to be more closely based on economic evidence, and pay more attention to the impact on non-rights holders and consumers.

The report hinted that previous actions by the music industry and others had inflated the cost of copyright breaches such as P2P file-sharing.

We reckoned the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) would hold an opinion. So we asked Secretary General Nicholas Lansman, who says the organisation agrees with the Review’s findings that IP framework had failed to keep pace with the digital age.

Lansman added that by making content licensing easier and more transparent it will help companies “innovate to give consumers what they are demanding.” 

“[The] ISPA further feels that the lack of robust evidence on online copyright infringement, as the review finds, should be front of mind for government when it looks to implement the copyright provisions of the Digital Economy Act,” he added.

Privacy advocates at Big Brother Watch had their piece, too, welcoming the decision by the
Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to place growth and innovation at the heart of its digital strategy.

However, Daniel Hamilton, director at the organisation, points out that the IPO has to be far clearer about exactly what it is Professor Hargreaves is proposing.  

“These are many questions that still need answering,” Hamilton says.

“Will the Digital Copyrights Exchange be a central database or just a clearinghouse?  How will online privacy be protected while digital copyrights infringement investigations take place?  What exact powers will the IPO gain?”  

Professor Hargreaves said the review is in the government’s hands now. It should base its opinions on “objective evidence” as “there is no doubt that the persuasive powers of celebrities and important UK creative companies have distorted policy outcomes”.

The government says it will review the recommendations and hopes to make a full response next month before the summer recess.