Copyright can protect many different forms of expression, including literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, layouts of typographical arrangements, recordings and broadcasts.  Copyright is a right which arises automatically on creation of one of these forms of original works and it is the expression of the work, rather than the idea itself which is protected.

Use of a copyright material is only allowed with the permission of the copyright holder.  However, the recent digital age has led to questions as to whether this is becoming out of date.  In a world where we expect access to music, film and books for free, issues have arisen as to how to protect and enforce copyright.  The internet age and the availability of pirated copies of various forms of media have made it more and more difficult for copyright holders to seek to assert their rights.

As one aspect of this debate, a panel of experts headed by William Sieghart agreed to perform a review of e-learning in public libraries in England last year.  The review was published in March 2013 noting that:

“The UK publishing industry is undergoing a digital revolution and the conclusion of this process is still a long way off.  The full impact of this revolution will transform the structure of publishing, bookselling and book borrowing, whether we like it or not.”

William Sieghart noted that there was a rapidly growing wish from the public to borrow books that would be able to be read on an Amazon Kindle, or similar device.  In order to attempt to stop the pirating of books in a similar manner to music, it is necessary to act now and to make the borrowing and lending of e-books increasingly available and therefore popular. 

Despite this, early experiments of digital lending led to mistrust when rules had not been effectively established and publishers feared for the security of their digital assets.  Concerns in relation to libraries’ ability to delete books at the end of a borrowing period and in relation to the possibility of file sharing were rife. Publishers, understandably, do not want e-lending to be such a success that book sales fall.

The report therefore attempts to establish basic rules on which libraries and publishers can agree and which they can use.  William Sieghart noted in particular that:

“Some can be agreed today but many of these rules will have to evolve as the market and the technology develop.” 

The delicate balancing game between promoting new uses of copyright works and ensuring that publishers and authors (amongst others) continue to make a profit will continue for some time.  Rights holders should continue to monitor and assess how best to protect and enforce copyright in their works.