UK Copyright changes in force

Written by Ian Murphy on 1 June 2014 in News
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The long awaited and controversial changes to UK copyright laws come into effect today. Education, research and the disabled to gain.

UK Copyright Changes

Three new regulations around the use of copyright law come into force today. These are clarifications to the existing Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and are intended to replace and clarify provisions in that piece of legislation.

The claim from the UK Government is that these changes will generate £250m for the UK economy over the next 10 years. With the press release claiming that the new regulations will save libraries, archives and museums around £26m per year or £260m over the same period, it is questionable as to where, beyond these savings, the financial benefits are to be found.

The three regulations are:

  1. The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Disability) Regulations 2014 - This allows those with a disability or groups representing them to make copies of materials in different formats. For example, it is hoped that this will substantially increase the amount of audiobooks and large print books, both paper and digital, for those with visual challenges.
  2. The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Research, Education, Libraries and Archives) Regulations 2014 - Libraries can begin to scan materials and make them available in digital collections. This applies to all copyrighted materials and is designed to make it easier to build, and make available, digital collections of all types of content from books to magazines, music to film and video. Researchers can copy materials for non-commercial research.
  3. The Copyright (Public Administration) Regulations 2014 - Public bodies can now publish everything that they hold online. This is intended to make it easier for people to see what their local bodies are doing without having to attend council offices to read materials. There is already interest in this area from companies who want to buy and aggregate data as well as from organisations such as lobby groups and the media.

To help people understand the limitations of what can and cannot be done, the government has published a series of guides to the new regulations.

The UK Government started this process back in 2010 with the belief that the existing laws around copyright were inhibiting innovation and economic growth. This resulted in the publication of a report led by Professor Ian Hargreaves entitled Digital Opportunity, A review of Intellectual Property and Growth. The report decided that existing copyright protection was preventing the creation of new types of businesses.

The process has been mired in controversy as many organisations representing copyright holders saw this as weakening their ability to defend against theft and unauthorised use. The report said that far from weakening copyright protection it would make it much easier for smaller copyright owners to engage in the process and set out the groundwork for creating what has been termed the world's first Digital Copyright Exchange.

Despite the provisions of the law, the UK has still not gone as far as some consumer rights groups wanted. They wanted the right for anyone to buy one copy of a CD, book or film and then copy it to multiple formats for use on all their devices without any additional payment to the copyright owner. That this happens anyway will still remain a grey area in law.

Another area that is very unclear is that of researchers using copyrighted materials. The new regulation states that they may do this for non-commercial research but does not lay out the mechanism by which copyright holders are entitled to compensation should results later be included in commercial projects.

For example, researchers using the material to investigate influences on health and lifestyle may reasonably draw on materials if the results are given away free. However, should any of those results then be used in a collaboration with a healthcare provider or commercial company selling products, there seems to be no way for copyright holders to get compensated unless they discover how their information was used and take private action. This shifts the onus onto the copyright holder not the person using their material and is dangerously close to piracy by the backdoor.

The creation of archives by libraries is to be welcomed to ensure that materials are available for future generations but there is no increase in the monies available under the Public Lending Right. This seems like another way for authors, recording artists, film makers and photographers whose works will now come into the collections provision to have their works reused with no compensation.

The goals of the Hargreaves report were never intended to reduce the earning from those who have the right to be associated with copyright material. Unfortunately, the implementation and the assumption that people creating new businesses should be entitled to what many will see as free access to content will do nothing to reduce the contentious nature of copyright law.

It is to be hoped that the government will now bring forward its planned overhaul of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act that Hargreaves recommends.

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