3rd December 2010

Copyright – where are we going now?

Few areas of law divide opinion quite like the law of copyright.

Copyright protects the tangible expression of ideas across various categories of work.  The principal purpose of copyright law is to ensure that the creators of original works are rewarded for their endeavours.  However, as is well documented, the digital age has presented the system with a whole raft of problems and not everyone can agree upon how they should be solved.

Scroll to the comments section of any online article on the subject and you are likely to find furious debate raging between those who champion the rights of the creative industries and others who believe in the free access and distribution of content.  The UK has long grappled to balance these competing interests but has yet to devise a legal framework which satisfies everyone or, arguably, anyone.

Recent Developments

The Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEA) was pushed through in the dying days of the Labour government and introduced various measures designed to counter online copyright infringement.  These included imposing obligations on internet service providers (ISPs), such as BT and Talk Talk, to take action against suspected infringers and even disconnect them altogether.  However, last month the High Court ordered a judicial review of the DEA in order to determine whether it is legal and justifiable.  This could ultimately result in aspects of the DEA being amended or even scrapped altogether.

Only days before the decision to carry out a judicial review was taken, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he had ordered an independent review of the UK’s intellectual property laws in order to determine whether they are “fit for the internet age”.  Mr Cameron pointed to the “fair-use” copyright exceptions that exist in the US, opining that they encourage creative innovation and warning that the founders of Google had advised that they could not have formed their business in Britain.

Although the exceptions to copyright infringement in the UK are certainly more rigid than those enjoyed by our friends across the Pond, it is worth bearing in mind that the manner in which the courts in each country have interpreted the relevant legislation over the years has not been dramatically different.  Moreover, the results of a consultation conducted by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) as recently as 2009 indicate that opinions on copyright exceptions remain somewhat divergent.  As such, some question the value of yet another review in this area.

The Future

So what exactly does the future hold for copyright law in the UK?  The short answer is that nobody really knows.  My view is that the law is likely to be tinkered with further in the coming years, but exactly what changes will be made remains unclear.  As ever, the acid test will be how the courts interpret any new legislation.

What changes would you like to see made to the law of copyright?  We’d be delighted to hear from you.

If you require advice on the subject of copyright or any other aspect of intellectual property law, please contact me at kirk.dailly@blackadders.co.uk or on 01382 342453.

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