Late last month the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) outlined its response to views raised in a consultation it ran which looked into changing UK rules on exceptions to copyright.
Universities UK, a membership organisation that represents 134 UK universities and colleges, said the changes the Government has said it will pursue in relation to copying for educational purposes were "balanced" and address existing concerns about modern teaching practices grating with copyright restrictions.
"The Government's announcement will be welcomed by universities, who have been operating under laws designed with the technologies and teaching methods of the last century in mind," Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said in a statement. "The proposed changes are balanced and address concerns that Universities UK, and others, have raised about the existing system."
"We look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the new regulations provide a fair framework for universities, students and rights-holders," she added.
Copyright and universities law specialist Louise Fullwood of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that a new teaching exemption to copyright was "long overdue".
In its consultation response document, the IPO said that changes it plans to introduce later this year will "make it easier to use interactive whiteboards and similar technology in classrooms, provide access to copyright works over secure networks to support the growing demand for distance learning, and allow use of all media in teaching and education".
As part of the reforms the IPO said that a new 'fair dealing' exception, to allow for the non-commercial use of copyrighted works in teaching, would be introduced. The exception would apply "to the extent necessary by way of illustration in order to teach about a subject".
"[The new teaching exception] will not permit copying to an extent that would conflict with the normal exploitation of a work and potentially undermine sales of those works," the IPO said in its report. "So it would not permit, for example, a significant amount of a textbook to be photocopied for multiple students, as doing so could displace sales of that textbook. To a similar extent, it would not permit copying and sharing of commercial interactive whiteboard course packs."
Currently the UK has limited exemption for 'fair dealing' in copyright-protected material, which permits the use of content in news reporting, for criticism or review and for non-commercial research purposes, amongst other things.
In addition, the IPO said that the new teaching exception would apply to courses delivered online and not just in the traditional classroom setting.
"The Government will therefore ensure that the acts permitted under the education exceptions are permitted to the same extent over secure distance learning networks controlled by educational establishments as they are permitted within those educational establishments," the IPO said.
Universities UK said that "the current copyright regime does not adequately address the use of modern teaching technologies, such as electronic whiteboards or secure networks used for distance learning".
Not all groups have expressed favour for a new fair dealing exception to be introduced for teaching. The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) said that the creation of such an exception "would result in greater uncertainty and bureaucracy for educational establishments", according to a summary of the responses the IPO received to its consultation on reforming copyright laws which was published last June.
"The existing laws relating to copyright, set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, have been in place since 1988, and the rules on exceptions that relate to education are very much based on a 'chalk and talk' era, with a limited amount of photocopying also permitted," Louise Fullwood of Pinsent Masons said. "The rules do not cover the current teaching methods that lecturers use in this age of the internet."
"Having a wider set of exemptions is really helpful and has been needed for a number of years. They do not diminish the rights of rights holders. Universities are not seeking to use large chunks of copyright content, and indeed will still require a licence under the proposed reforms if they do want to copy material that is beyond the scope of 'fair dealing', so the changes would be reasonable," the expert added.