Business News Labels & Publishers Legal Top Stories

Copyright consultation deadline approaches

By | Published on Wednesday 21 March 2012


With today as the deadline for contributing to the UK Intellectual Property Office’s copyright consultation, based on the findings of last year’s Hargreaves Review, campaigners on both sides of the debate – those who support Hargreaves’ key reform proposals, and those who are cautioning against too much change – have issued statements.

Google was among those to put their name to a letter in The Times earlier this week urging the government to make Hargreaves’ recommendations law, especially those on format shifting (or private copying) and other areas of so called ‘fair dealing’ (or ‘fair use’ to use the American expression).

The letter, signed by Google’s UK Marketing Director Dan Cobley as well as British Library CEO Lynne Brindley and comedy writer Graham Linehan, amongst others, said the British copyright system as it currently stands is “flawed”, and that it “limits growth, puts our cultural heritage at risk, holds back scientific discovery, and stifles our country’s great comedic tradition of parody”.

The letter particularly focused on the private copy right, or lack thereof under UK law, which means technically to rip tracks from CD to PC or iPod for personal listening is illegal. The Google-sanctioned letter continued: “As the law stands, transferring music from a CD to an MP3 player for your own use is illegal. Based on a real case, the inventor of a British iPod would attract legal threats instead of investment. By making everyday private copying of the music, films and e-books consumers have paid for legal, copyright law will regain relevance in the eyes of consumers and allow today’s technology start-ups to compete with their European and US rivals”.

The lack of a private copy right in the UK, especially in the iPod age, is accepted as bad law by pretty much everyone, including most rights owners, though the big copyright owning companies are likely to push for some sort of levy – charged on digital music devices – as part of any move to give British citizens the private copy right, similar to the private copy levies that exist elsewhere in Europe.

While there is a case for the UK music industry having parity with its counterparts elsewhere in the European Union, as much previously commented, the pay off from such a levy – which is mainly linked to music ripped from CDs – is nominal in the wider scheme of things, and the PR advantage that could be gained by the record industry by being seen to fix this bit of bad law without financial gain would be priceless in the wider copyright debate, where big copyright owners are always seen by the masses as the bad guys.

Of course some do point out that the emerging digital locker services exploit the private copy right, and that therefore giving up any right to compensation for private copies allows such services to operate without a licence from content owners, and indeed that may well explain why Google – with its digital locker service – is so keen for this bit of copyright law to change. But the commercial potential of basic digital locker services has always been exaggerated, and any cleverer cloud storage systems – like Apple’s iCloud – are not covered by the private copy right exemption alone, so still require having the big content owners separately on board.

But while most agree that something needs to be done about private copying, even if there are differing opinions as to how that should be achieved, does that mean that the wider British copyright system is “flawed”, as the Google et al letter claims?

In a joint statement published yesterday by various copyright collecting societies, including the music industry’s PRS and PPL, the defenders of the current system said that – while there is always room for improvement – the idea that copyright is killing innovation dead just isn’t true.

You sense the societies feel that the Hargreaves Review – while not advocating changes quite as radical as some copyright owners originally feared – nevertheless fails to acknowledge the achievements of rights owners and their representatives in developing new licensing models in the last decade. True, copyright owners initially struggled to keep up with the rapid shifts in content distribution that occurred ten to fifteen years ago, but in more recent years said content owners have introduced radical new licensing models to facilitate new distribution methods at an equally rapid pace.

Although supporting some of Hargreaves proposals – on orphan works, the digital rights exchange, and on voluntary codes of conduct for rights owners backed up by independent review – the collecting societies say that they feel the Intellectual Property Office isn’t properly balancing the interests of the three parties involved here – consumers, businesses and, especially, creators.

They write: “Creators should not be forced to give away their work for free in order to subsidise other businesses through more exceptions. Consumers should not be directed to illegal services. Businesses should not be held back by unnecessary red tape. Yet, the Intellectual Property Office’s proposals fail to grasp the new opportunities available and deny a sustainable future for creators”.

The societies also take issue with some of the assumptions made in the IPO’s proposals, in particular the predicted economic growth that some have claimed could be achieved if the proposed changes to private copying and fair dealing rules are made. As previously reported, the collecting societies are not alone here, with various music industry bodies arguing that the suggestion these changes could deliver £7.9 billion in economic growth for the UK just isn’t credible, or to quote one time rocker and now MP Pete Wishart, that figure is “bonkers”.

The societies write: “The IPO numbers don’t add up. Some proposals lack any financial analysis. In others, the assumptions are flawed. More worryingly, the negative effects on creative industries have been ignored completely”.

It remains to be seen how the government now precedes on these issues, though expect the serious lobbying to begin if and when legislation begins to be drawn up to instigate any changes.

Meanwhile, you can read the collecting societies’ statement here.