Online only: updated 05/06/14

Copyright chaos again

Unfair exceptions - please contact your MP by 22 June

THE GOVERNMENT'S plans to extend the "exceptions" to copyright - the conditions under which your work may to be used without permission or payment - descended into chaos in mid-May.

Following representations by the British Copyright Council and the Creators' Rights Alliance - to both of which the NUJ belongs - the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) told the government, as we understand it, that it did not believe the proposed measures on quoting and parodying works, and on making "private copies", were well-formed or in accordance with European or international law. The government had planned to place these before Parliament in the week beginning on Monday 12 May, and will not now do so.

The NUJ wrote to the JCSI on 12 May in support of a further British Copyright Council submission and in addition querying the proposals for "quotation" of photographs. The point on the latter is that no-one knows what that would mean. It's all a bit technical at this stage, because it's framed in terms of the JCSI's mandate in scrutinising changes to legislation through these "Statutory Instruments".

Further confusion was added by the Sunday People on 11 May devoting its front page to the assertion that Parliament would rise a week early, which could have put the government timetable in doubt. Parliamentary officials knew nothing on the Monday - but it turned out to be true.

The remaining three proposals were in fact approved by both houses of Parliament in that week. They cover:

  • extending the exception for the benefit of people with disabilities;
  • extending the exception for "public administration" to allow the government, for example, to put copyright material submitted to committees of inquiry online; and
  • extending the exception for educational use, for example to allow use of extracts of works in media other than print for the purposes of illustration.

That last has caused most worry. Probably, schools and colleges will continue to pay for licences to be sure that they can continue to use extracts larger than those permitted. There may have to be court cases if they think they can get away without. It also includes a measure permitting "data analysis" for non-profit purposes. This is unclear and there will very likely have to be court cases to find out what it means.

We hear that the government plans to come back with the quotation/parody and private-copying Regulations in the Autumn. Efforts continue to persuade it to make more than token changes.

Meanwhile the government produced its response to consultations on a draft Statutory Instrument setting up a machinery for "Extended Collective Licensing". On a first reading the mood music is good: the document bends over backward to reassure creators (including journalists and photojournalists). A second cynical reading is under way.

The first step of that cynical path is taken: the Intellectual Property Office announces (in the PDF linked from the above) that we won't get to see the text of the Statutory Instrument until after it's been seen by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Update 03/05/14: Staff aware of the procedures of the Joint Committee, however, say it'll proceed as normal, being published when it is formally "laid before Parliament" and then considered by the JCSI.

Update 04/05/14: On 30 May the government responded to the consultation on the Orphan Works scheme. The 40-page document is also keen to reassure. Notable points on first reading include:

  • There is no stipulation of how long someone wanting to license the use of a work as orphan would have to wait after placing it on a proposed register, which authors could scan to check for their works.
  • Licence fees remaining unclaimed because no author has come forward after eight years would be sunk in the costs of running the scheme. If there were a surplus, the symbolically important decision on what to do with it has been deferred and put in the hands of the Secretary of State at the time: they "may, for example, be used in line with the EU Directive [on use of orphan works by libraries etc]: for 'social, cultural and educational activities'."
  • "The Government is exploring the possibility of reciprocal agreements with other countries... such that UK-issued orphan works licences would be valid in those territories and vice versa." So licences will permit use in the UK only for years, or decades. (Certain licences to libraries, museums and archives for non-commercial uses of non-visual works will be EU-wide.)
  • The government will consult on yet another amendment to the law, to fix what appears to have been an error in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 that left unpublished works since the beginning of time in copyright until 2039.

We understand that the government plans to put the revised orphan works regulations to Parliament either July, though this may slip to September. The NUJ and Creators' Rights Alliance will be doing what we can to deal with the outstanding questions.

Update 05/05/14: The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that viewing a copyright infringement on-screen does not create a liability - only the person or company who put it online can be sued. The case of Newspaper Licensing Agency versus Meltwater therefore goes back to the UK courts for final settlement. Meltwater is a Dutch company that sells PR companies access to lists of newspaper clippings - currently distributed in email. Meltwater pays a licence fee for this to the NLA. What happens to the portion of this attributable to freelance journalists who retain copyright remains a mystery to the Freelance: see here.

Please contact your MP

Also on Monday 12 May we were alerted to an "Early Day Motion" - an expression of MPs' views - on the troubled question of allowing private copying without the fair compensation demanded by European law. Please contact your now MP and ask them to sign Early Day Motion 1307.

This Early Day Motion was still open for signature after the State Opening on 4 June. We're guessing it stays open at least until the Summer Recess on 22 June.

Last modified: 4 June 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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