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Changes to copyright law keep pace with the digital age

15th July 2014

The Hargreaves Report in 2011 made several recommendations for the reform of the law of copyright in England and Wales.  The Government’s response, announced in December 2012, is now in the process of implementation.  Central to the Government’s reforms is an overhaul of existing copyright exemptions by introducing five new exemptions dealing with 1) copying for private use, 2) quotation and parody, 3) research, education, libraries and archives 4) disability and 5) public administration.

The most widely anticipated of the new exemptions, for private copying, would, for the first time, make it legal for consumers to ‘format shift’ media, for example from CD to MP3, provided the copies are for private use.  However, the exemption permitting copying for private use, together with that for quotation and parody, was suddenly withdrawn from the legislative programme in May, the Parliamentary Joint Committee commenting that they “have some questions” about these exceptions.  The Government has nevertheless reiterated its commitment to implementing all of these reforms “as soon as possible”, which is likely to be October 2014.

The remainder of the new exemptions came into force on 1 June 2014.  The new exemptions allow:

1) Format shifting by disabled persons.  A disabled user is now entitled to copy a work into a more accessible format, provided that they are lawfully entitled to use or possess the original work, the copy is for personal use only and the same kind of accessibly copy is not commercially available on “reasonable terms”.  Previously a similar exemption applied only in respect of visual impairments.

2) Research, education, libraries and archives.  Existing exemptions have been extended and new ones created to allow, among other things, data analysis for non-commercial research, librarians and archivists to copy works for the purpose of preservation and the operation of dedicated terminals on the premises of libraries and archives to access copyright works.  Existing limited exemptions allowing private research, study and the use of copyright works for education have been extended to cover all types of copyright work.

3) Public administration.  Public bodies are now entitled to share third-party information electronically online as well as in hard copies.  This is a narrow exemption limited to material which is available for public inspection, and does not cover material which is commercially available.

The reforms introduced on 1 June 2014 are unlikely to prove controversial or to cause significant concern to rights holders.  The exemptions dealing with private copying and quotation and parody are expected to provoke a more mixed response when the Government reintroduces them to the legislative programme, which could happen later this year.

For further information about copyright please contact James O’Flinn or another member of the Dispute Resolution team.

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