The Copyright Consultation: how can it impact the information profession?

The UK Government's is looking for evidence to inform its Copyright Consultation - and information professionals should get involved says Emily Goodhand.

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In December 2011 the UK Government published its 160 page consultation on copyright, complete with impact assessments of each of the areas highlighted for review and amendment.  

The consultation comes on the back of the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property (IP), which made ten recommendations to the Government for changes to the IP regime.  The Government broadly accepted all the recommendations and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) was tasked to consult with various stakeholders in the early part of 2012 (NB 'stakeholders' also includes information professionals).  As most of the recommendations highlighted copyright as the area which needed the most reform, this latest consultation focuses solely on proposed changes to the copyright regime in the UK.

Copyright doesn't exactly inspire feelings of joy and wonderment amongst information professionals.  Instead, it tends to elicit frustrated groans and howls of despair as a result of its restrictive and complicated nature.  The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) contains over fifty permitted acts, yet each one comes with its own special circumstances and restrictions. Add to this the statutory instruments which have been tacked on to the CDPA to implement Directives from Europe, and interpretation of copyright becomes that extra bit difficult for a busy professional who doesn't have much time to devote to its study.

So what features in the consultation? It focuses on five key points:

  • orphan works;
  • extended collective licensing;
  • copyright exceptions;
  • collecting societies; and
  • giving greater authority to the IPO to clarify the copyright system.

Of these, the first three are likely to be the most relevant to information professionals.

Exceptions to copyright

This area is of primary importance to information professionals and changes to the exceptions would have an immediate beneficial impact on the sector. If the library and information sector was wearing a corset, the introduction of changes in this area would be as though the restraints had been loosed and it could breathe deeply once again. Here is what the Government proposes:

1.       Updating the preservation exception for libraries and archives to include museums and galleries and to extend to artistic and audiovisual works as well as multiple copies. Currently, only libraries and archives can make single copies of literary, dramatic and musical works for preservation purposes. This would mean not having to stand by in despair as senior managers dispose of beloved collections on archaic formats such as VHS or slides.

2.       Extend the copying of material for non-commercial research or private study to all types of works, not just literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works, and crucially to allow librarians to copy extracts of all types of both unpublished and published works for non-commercial researchers. This should inspire delight as it would finally rid copyright law of its discrepancy between the fair dealing defence for researchers and the library copying defence.

3.       Allowing the education exception for teaching to extend to other organisations such as museums which offer educational activities alongside their mainstream activities.

4.       Extending the visual impairment exception to include all users who suffer a disability (including learning difficulties such as dyslexia) and to apply to all types of work. The Government also propose to remove the necessity for a licensing scheme to be in place which would relieve information professionals of the burden of knowing whether they need to comply with the licence or with the law.

5.       Creating a clause in the CDPA which would prevent terms of contracts from restricting what can lawfully be done under the exceptions to copyright. This is particularly significant to organisations who manage large amounts of digital content; the content is usually licensed and each licence brings with it slightly different terms. A large organisation can have as many as 150 different licence (contracts) and managing those licences (including knowing how to tell users to comply with them) is a huge and heavy administrative burden.

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