The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has announced the Government’s acceptance of a major reform of copyright law based on the ten recommendations of the independent review by Professor Ian Hargreaves, which was published in May this year. The announcement also follows the policy review by telecoms regulator Ofcom in relation to the controversial, long-delayed Digital Economy Act (DEA).

The main announcements were that:  

  1.  Proposals for blocking illegal filesharing websites have been rejected;
  2. The proposed reforms around ‘format shifting’ have been approved;
  3. The restrictions on using copyright material to create parodies, remixes and spin-offs which can then be shared will be removed; and
  4. There are plans to establish a new Digital Copyright Exchange.

Website blocking

Plans to block illegal file-sharing websites have been scrapped after the independent review by Ofcom found the proposals under the DEA to be problematic and ineffective. The announcement follows the Motion Picture Association’s success in obtaining an injunction requiring BT to block access to Newzbin2, an alleged illegal filesharing website. Industry bosses may see the injunction as a victory against online piracy, but the Government has acknowledged that there needs to be a more effective framework which enables faster, cheaper action to be taken than is currently possible through the courts.

Format shifting

The Government proposes to legalise format shifting, essentially non-commercial copying for personal use, such as copying CDs or DVDs onto music players or computers; although it would still be illegal to share those copies. Many argue that the change in the law will have little substantive effect as the general public is largely unaware of the illegality of what is a widespread practice; the legislation will only formalise what many perceive as tacit industry acceptance of the current position and will also bring UK law into line with the US.

Relaxation of rules regarding parody

Opinions are split on whether this proposal will promote creativity or simply encourage copyright infringement. This will depend on the exact wording of the statute. The reforms could allow parodies such as “Newport State of Mind”, a parody of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ track New York State of Mind, which drew more than 2.6 million hits on YouTube before being pulled down following objection from the songwriters – although other versions have since resurfaced.

Digital copyright exchange

A key proposal from the Hargreaves Review was a “one-stop Amazon-style digital copyright exchange to make the selling of content easier and more profitable, allowing creators and users of content to buy and sell rights transparently”. The exchange would also be responsible for so-called orphaned works that do not have an identifiable author.

To be continued…

Vince Cable said the economy would benefit by £8bn over the next few years by modernising the IP legislation in order to grow the UK’s creative industries, which currently generate £60 billion per year and account for 1.3 million jobs.

However, the industry has been left in a state of uncertainty as the law once again fails to keep pace with technological developments. Ivan Lewis MP, the Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, argues that “we now need the Government to publish a clear action plan and timeline for delivery [of its IP proposals] in order to avoid the delay and drift of the past year being repeated”.