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Government's 'cautious' copyright reform challenged

Professor Ian Hargreaves says the creative economy will be damaged if copyright law is not reformed

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The government's approach to copyright reform is at “the cautious end of the spectrum,” but is moving in the right direction to address technological change, according to Professor Ian Hargreaves, author of the Hargreaves Review.

Speaking at a Select Committee hearing on the subject of providing support for the creative economy, Hargreaves said that he understood why the government is being cautious in response to his recommendations in the Hargreaves Review.

“This is a controversial area, and there are proper and legitimate interests engaged on all sides,” he said.

However, he added that the overarching point remains that the UK's copyright system has gone unreformed since the arrival of the Internet and, as a result, copyright law has lost touch with the way consumers actually behave.

“If we don't grapple with the need to adapt in the face of change, I think the system risks being broken and damaged much further than it will be by anything I've proposed. The forces out there are very powerful,” he said.

Back in December, the government announced greater freedoms in the copyright framework to allow third parties to use copyrighted works without seeking permission from rights holders, in an effort to encourage innovation.

Business secretary Vince Cable said at the time that bringing the law into line with ordinary people’s reasonable expectations would boost respect for copyright, on which the country's creative industries rely.

“We feel we have struck the right balance between improving the way consumers benefit from copyright works they have legitimately paid for, boosting business opportunities and protecting the rights of creators,” he said.

The government is also in the process of developing a Digital Copyright Exchange (DCE), which will provide a one-stop-shop for information on intellectual property issues and a place for copyright owners to register their rights.

Richard Hooper, who recently published a report on the feasibility of a DCE, also spoke at the Select Committee hearing, and said that simplifying and streamlining the copyright licensing process would allow the copyright owners to profit from small-scale transactions.

“In the analogue age you have a relatively low volume of high monetary value transactions – big deals, there aren't many of them, huge amounts of money, large numbers of lawyers, endless contracts,” said Hooper.

“In the digital age there is a high volume of low monetary cost transactions – so you wishing to put music on your wedding video, for example. At the moment a lot of that is done with copyright infringement, but the DCE will allow us pick up a lot more high-volume low-monetary transactions.”

Peter Jenner, consultant to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, added that the underlying reason for copyright is to try and ensure that the people who create works get paid, and that any government reforms should continue to make this the top priority.

He said that the music and film industries should be taking an approach more analogous to radio and TV, in terms of blanket licenses, rather than trying to follow a classic retail model, because attempting to prevent people from copying online is futile.

“The digital environment is entirely about copying. It's a series of copying. Everything is being copied all the time in a digital environment,” he said.

“Instead of trying to get people's behaviour to conform with our copyright system, we should be trying to adjust our copyright system to conform with people's behaviour that reflects the developments in the technology.”


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