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UK opposes copyright exemptions for mash-ups

There should be no new exemption from copyright law for users' adaptations of copyright-protected content, the UK Government has said. To create such an exemption for user-generated content would ignore the rights of content creators, it said.02 Mar 2009

The Government has responded to a consultation paper published by the European Commission on copyright reform. That consultation asks whether the European Union's Copyright Directive should be amended to introduce exemptions for 'user-created content'. User-created content can include individuals' use of professionally-produced music, film, video or images for a new or different purpose to the original.

The Government rejected proposed changes that would exempt such users of copyrighted material from restrictions in copyright law.

"The suggestion for an exemption for user-created content seems to create a distinction between those who use and those who create works, which in many cases is not justified," said the Government's response to the Commission's consultation.

"Another significant concern is the extent to which such an exemption might allow others to use the works in a way that the existing rights holders do not approve of and the impact that exemptions in this area might have on remuneration," it said.

The Government suggested that legislators focus more on improving licensing of material by copyright owners to allow other people to make works using parts of their content. It said that companies had already found some success in negotiating such agreements themselves.

"In addition to the 'Creative Commons' licence we have seen the 2007 agreement between [music licensing body] the MCPS-PRS Alliance and YouTube which enables YouTube users to include certain musical works in their video clips under a licence given to YouTube," said the Government. "In considering any possible exemptions in this area it is important to consider carefully the potential impact on existing rights holders, in terms of both commercial and non-commercial [user-generated content]," it said.

The Commission's consultation is designed to help it review the EU's Copyright Directive and it focused particularly on when people should be exempt from copyright laws.

The consultation asked whether some of the exemptions which countries are allowed to include in their own copyright laws be mandatory. The Government said that not enough work and research had been done to ascertain whether or not that was wise.

The Government had the same view in relation to exemptions for libraries and for schools, though it did say that there were bodies which were worried that a clarification of educational exemptions to copyright law could lead to a widening of those exemptions.

The Government said that any plans to make it compulsory to provide material in specific formats for disabled users should be resisted.

"We do not believe that stipulating formats in law will be helpful," said the Government's response. "Keeping legislation up to date with changes in technology is likely to be extremely difficult, and locking particular technologies into a legal framework could hamper efforts to deliver improvements."

The Government did back the creation of one new exemption, though. The EU's Database Directive does not have an exemption for people with disabilities in the way that the Copyright Directive and copyright laws have. The Commission asked whether a new exemption in that Directive should be created. The Government said it should.

"Subject to evaluation of the impact of making such an amendment, it would seem appropriate to ensure that the same conditions apply to an exception including databases as apply to the current exemption dealing with other works," it said.

Expertise in Copyright

Copyright is an extremely valuable, often unrecognised or misunderstood right which protects a whole range of original materials including written materials, software, artistic materials, music and dramatic works. It arises automatically without the need for registration in most countries and protects these materials from unauthorised copying. It is essential in business to identify such rights, ensure they are owned by the correct entity, properly protected, enforced and exploited.

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