Modernisation of copyright law

26 Jun 2014

The Hargreaves Review was commissioned by the Government in November 2010 to review the UK’s existing intellectual property framework and comment on how it could be modernised. Amongst its many proposals, the report suggested that various copyright exceptions should be introduced to reflect the technological advancements that have been made since the passing of Copyright Design and Patents Act in 1988.  

Some three years later, the Government has finally acted on Professor Hargreaves’ recommendations and introduced three sets of new regulations with effect from 1 June 2014, together with two further sets of regulations to be brought into force on 1 October 2014, in an attempt to bring copyright law up-to-speed in the 21st century.      

In short, the main changes effected by these regulations can be summarised as follows:  

  • People will now be permitted to make private copies of media they have lawfully acquired, such as CDs and eBooks, for their own private use.  
  • In certain circumstances, people will be able to use copyright material for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche, without first being granted permission by the rights holder.  
  • Charities or individuals will be able to turn books and other copyright works into accessible formats for disabled people.  
  • Teachers will now be able to reproduce copyright material more extensively using modern technology. Copying a small amount was previously permitted so long as the copying was done by hand to illustrate a point. 
  • The existing fair dealing provisions for the purpose of criticism or review are extended to allow quotation from a work for any purpose, provided it remains “fair dealing” and the copyright owner is sufficiently acknowledged. 

Some of these changes will, of course, be more than significant than others. On the one hand, people have frequently made private copies of media (e.g. putting tracks from CDs onto an iPod) but copyright owners have, by and large, avoided taking legal action due to the prohibitive cost.

Teachers have likewise breached copyright provisions by reproducing substantial amounts of copyright material for educational purposes. Such infringement has also generally not been prosecuted because of the negative publicity it would generate for the copyright holder.

The codification of what has generally been considered standard and acceptable consumer practice, therefore, is unlikely to alter much for copyright owners and consumers alike.

On the other hand, there are areas where these new regulations will create uncertainty. Guidance issued by the Intellectual Property Office in March 2014 in respect of the new caricature, parody or pastiche exception, for instance, suggests that “the use of a few lines of song for a parody sketch is likely to be considered fair, whereas use of a whole song would not be and would continue to require a licence.” 

The amount of copyright material that can be used under this exception is unclear. Would use of, say, 10 lines of a song without permission constitute copyright infringement? Producers of satirical programmes, such as the BBC’s Have I Got News For You, will therefore need to be careful before deciding it is not necessary to clear rights in respect of the copyright material they wish to use. No doubt the courts will be expected to interpret these new regulations, and provide further guidance, in due course.

Notwithstanding the above changes, it is important to note that most uses of copyright material will continue to require permission from the owner. Accordingly, we would suggest that you always seek legal advice if you are uncertain as to whether or not a licence is required.  For further information, please contact Howard Ricklow.

Additional information