Sunday, 1 June 2014

'New exceptions to copyright reflect digital age'

A number of trendy 'exceptions to copyright', additional fall-out from the Hargreaves Review, come into force today, as this Press release from the IPO (now in fact from Big Brother's GOV.UK site, which smacks of everything a Conservative or Liberal government, let alone a coalition of the two, should stand for) reminds us. To my mind it is inaccurate to call them exceptions to copyright: the Act calls them 'permitted acts', and the government should be consistent. The trouble is that there are too few lawyers among our lawmakers these days: professional politicians who have never worked in the real world deal in simple concepts (and probably struggle with more than 140 characters), not nuanced language.

The 'exceptions' do not affect the subsistence of copyright, just its enforceability: they provide defences rather than creating holes in the fabric of copyright, which remains omnivorous. It's a way of rearranging the deckchairs when the real problem is that the ship is sinking under the weight of mundane, not-original-in-the-more-appropriate-sense-of-the-word, copyright 'works'. It hits the wrong target: making 'exceptions' (especially if you wrongly apply that label to them) creates false expectations about how copyright works, especially when they are the product of special pleading.

Still, we all have to know about them (unless your interest in copyright law is limited to passing an examination in the next few days, in which case you probably need to know only the law as it stood on or about 14 February). The new regulations, which you can read by following the links, are:

The Patent Office (I will continue to use its proper name) has published a series of 8 targeted guides
about what the changes mean for groups including teachers, researchers,
librarians, disability groups, artists, museums and consumers. Given that they can surely have no value in legal proceedings, and certainly do not constitute legal advice, I wish they would stop wasting public funds (even if it is not taxpayers' money) like this. It would be far, far better if they were in some way to subsidise the small businesses that need advice on these matters but cannot readily afford it (though no doubt they find it possible to afford many other less essential goods and services).

Further changes, concerning private copying and parody and quotation, remain stalled in the legislative process: a small relief, though they are only likely to be delayed, not lost.

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