In August 2011, the Government published its responses to the independent review of IP and Growth undertaken by Professor Ian Hargreaves earlier in the year. At the same time, it outlined its plans for implementation of the provisions in the Digital Economy Act dealing with online copyright infringement.

In general, the Government has welcomed the recommendations outlined in the Hargreaves Report (the "Report") as a stepping stone to the modernisation of copyright laws. The Government's proposals, including those outlined below are intended to facilitate easier identification of rights whilst also protecting rights owners:

Digital copyright exchange
The Government supports the Report's conclusion that a Digital Copyright Exchange (or something similar) should be implemented to store copyright information in a readily accessible manner. The Report predicts this could increase the UK economy by £2.2 billion per year by 2020 and the Government notes in its response that this kind of information marketplace would also be an effective tool against copyright infringement and would help people to begin a search for the owner of orphan works (see below).

Orphan Works
The Government wants to capitalise on the potential wealth of orphan works by prioritising proposals for an orphan works scheme this autumn. The aim would be for orphan works to be able to be used commercially and culturally, provided that diligent searches for the rights owners have been carried out and market rates are paid for commercial use.

Private Use Exemption
The Government will bring forward proposals to expand the current copyright exemptions to include a limited private copying right (amongst others). This could allow copying from one format to another (e.g. from a purchased CD to an MP3 player). However, it remains to be seen what the scope of the exemption will be and, in particular, whether it will extend to video (DVDs, Blu-ray etc) as well as audio. Many forms of digital media are commonly copy-protected to hinder piracy. To implement the format shifting exemption for these types of media, there may therefore also need to be an exemption to the existing rules on circumvention of technological protection measures.

Collecting Societies
The Government sees collecting societies as continuing to play a major role in copyright licensing going forward, but believes that their status could be reinforced through adherence to good practice. It therefore intends to publish minimum standards for a voluntary code which would apply to collecting societies, as well as considering proposals for a backstop power to implement a statutory code to deal with collecting societies that have failed to comply with the voluntary code.

Digital Economy Act
Following the conclusion of judicial review proceedings brought by BT and TalkTalk in relation to the passing of the Act, the Government is now pushing forward with its implementation, subject to some alterations:

  • The obligation on internet service providers to contribute to the costs of Ofcom and other bodies in implementing the regime has been removed.
  • Following feedback from Ofcom on the costs of the appeals process, the Government is introducing a new £20 fee for making an appeal, which will be refunded if the appeal is successful. It is hoped that this will discourage frivolous appeals.
  • Following an Ofcom report into the practicalities of blocking websites, the Government does not consider that the current proposals contained in the Act would be effective. It is therefore dropping the site blocking provisions that would have compelled ISPs to block particular websites identified as containing allegedly infringing material. However, the Government did confirm that it will be pursuing other measures to tackle copyright infringement online, and the recent judgment of Arnold J in Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Ors v BT plc, where the film studios were successful in requiring BT to use its Cleanfeed system to block access to the Newzbin pirate site, appears to afford rights-owners with an alternative means to achieve this anyway.
     

For more information regarding the Government's response to the Hargreaves Report and implementation of the Digital Economy Act, please see here.