Monday, 30 December 2013

New copyright regulations coming next year

The government has published a statement  giving details of the changes to copyright law that will come into effect in the first half of next year, mostly concerning exceptions to protection (permitted acts, as the government should call them, to be consistent with the scheme of the legislation). It mentions 'relatively small but important' changes, which will remove 'up to' 45 pages of unnecessary rules and regulations from the statute book. Unnecessary? I find it impossible to understand how legislation can be regarded as 'unnecessary'. Undesirable, obsolete, unwanted, unduly complicated, perhaps, but never unnecessary.

The changes, of course, are inspired by the Hargreaves Review, which seems to have inspired more nonsense every time I look at it. Hargreaves it was who proposed new permitted acts to enable parodists to ply their trade without fear of being sued for infringement - as if good parody needs such a privilege, and as if it did not amount to removing a perfectly legitimate revenue stream for the copyright owner. The problem is that what passes for 'creativity' these days is less about making something pretty much from scratch (of course nothing is ever completely from scratch) but reusing and adapting what others have already created. Soon there won't be anything original to be found - perhaps that will remove the need to modernise copyright law.

The problem isn't that copyright works can't be reused, the problem is that too much is protected by copyright to begin with, and it would be far more constructive to raise the threshold for protection by making the originality requirement a bit more demanding - to require true originality, rather than mere independent creation. But that's another story.

In addition to the parody thing, the legislation will make some useful changes to Chapter III of Part 1 of the much-hacked-about Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The existing permitted act for archiving and preserving will be applied to all types of media, and to museums and galleries as well as libraries and archives. There will be new rights to copy material for private use and to conduct data analysis for non-commercial research. There will also be a new permitted act to quote copyright-protected content for purposes extending beyond criticism, review or news reporting.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills claims that businesses stand to save more than £25 million as a result of the planned changes to copyright exceptions, which is the sort of magical figure that I cannot take without a huge pinch of salt. In the audit society, everything has to be measured and costed, and Hargreaves stressed that policy in this area must be evidence-based, but I find it hard to see how figures like this can possibly be regarded as evidence. I don't think they would satisfy any legal test by which evidence is judged. No, the fact surely is that it suits the government to encourage the sort of ripping-off that can be cloaked with the title 'parody', because it's trendy and looks as if it amounts to modernisation.

At the same time, the government is legislating to support the idea of regulating the conduct of collecting societies by means of Codes. The idea is that the collecting societies should regulate their own activities with voluntary codes, but if this does not work the Government is giving itself powers to intervene.

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