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Government publishes its plans to modernise UK's copyright law following Hargreaves recommendations

The Government has proposed legalising the creation mp3 copies of CDs for use on an mp3 player, 'data mining' for non-commercial use and allowing for the licensing of material where the copyright holder cannot be traced in proposals to "modernise" copyright law.15 Dec 2011

The Government will implement recommendations made by university professor Ian Hargreaves in his review of the UK's intellectual property (IP) laws earlier this year.

A consultation run by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) on the plans will close in March 2012, allowing the Government to respond and make formal legislative proposals in Spring, it said.

If made law, the proposals would also give the IPO statutory power to issue formal copyright opinions to clarify the application of and exceptions to copyright law.

The IPO can currently issue Practice Notices and Directions on procedural matters. The proposed new 'Copyright Notice Service' would reduce confusion about the boundaries of copyright infringement, "particularly in the new circumstances which digital technology creates", the Government said.

The consultation proposes widening copyright exceptions to the maximum currently permitted within EU law. This includes allowing limited private copying, introducing an exemption for parody and pastiche and widening exceptions for library archivists and non-commercial researchers. Researchers are currently not permitted to use some computerised techniques to read data from journal articles without specific permission from the copyright owners, regardless of whether or not the researcher has already paid to access that article.

Last month trade body the UK Publishers Association warned that introducing a content mining exception would overload internet networks, create commercial risks for publishers and place the UK at a competitive disadvantage with other EU countries.

Currently, taking the music from a CD that you have purchased for use on an mp3 player is copyright infringement, although the music industry does not typically pursue individuals for this infringement. A 'private copying exemption' was among changes proposed by former Financial Times editor Andrew Gowers in his review of IP laws in 2006, but this recommendation was never implemented.

The proposals also look at modernising current exceptions to copyright law including the use of material for education, quotation and public administration and extending exceptions for people with disabilities to extend to more types of work. Currently the UK has limited exemption for 'fair dealing' in copyright-protected material, which permits the use of content in news reporting or for criticism or review, amongst other things.

The Government is also seeking views on the creation of an 'orphan works' scheme, which would establish licensing and clearance procedures for copyright material which currently cannot be used because its creator or owner is unknown. Such a scheme would include "necessary safeguards" for both the owners and rights holders of orphan works.

Copyright law expert Cerys Wyn-Davies of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, welcomed the proposals, which she said would address the barriers the current system placed in the way of methods of using copyrighted materials now allowed by modern technology. However, she stressed that authors' rights must also be properly considered.

"It will be important as part of the consultation to ensure that the balance of users' and authors' interests is fully understood so that the line is properly drawn. All interested parties – both authors of copyright materials and users – should be encouraged to participate in the consultation to ensure that their views are represented," she said.

The proposals also include simplifying the existing rights clearance system to allow authorised collecting societies to license on behalf of all rights holders in a particular sector and distribute fees as appropriate. This new extended collective licensing (ECL) scheme would reduce costs for users who need to seek multiple permissions, the Government said. Rights holders who wish to maintain control over their work would be able to opt out of the ECL scheme.

Intellectual Property Minister Baroness Wilcox said that freeing up existing copyright legislation at a time when the Government was focussed on growth could "deliver real value to the UK economy without risking our excellent creative industries".

"It is an exciting time for the development of intellectual property in the UK. We have already appointed Richard Hooper to run a feasibility study into a Digital Copyright Exchange DCE and this consultation is the next step to ensure copyright legislation in the UK keeps up to date with emerging technologies and consumer demand," she said.

Last month the Government appointed Hooper, the former Ofcom deputy chairman, to look into how a new digital copyright exchange (DCE) could work. The Government announced its support for establishing an online mechanism to allow owners of copyrighted material to make licenses available in a standardised way in its response to Hargreaves' recommendations in August.

At the time, it vowed to make state-owned copyrighted works available through the new exchange and said it would encourage public bodies to do likewise. Hooper's report is due before Parliament breaks up for summer next year.

Industry body UK Music, which represents the interests of the production side of the UK's music industry, said that some areas of the UK's copyright framework were long overdue for reform. However, it said the £7.9 billion annual GDP growth that the Government claimed would result from the changes was "overstated and unrealistic".

"[There[ is a very real danger that poorly targeted or ideologically driven changes to copyright law could instead undermine growth, both for the UK's creative sector and those digital businesses dependent upon or valuable content," it said.

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