Friday, 9th March 2012
Copyright: a subject that has the ability to inspire fear, uncertainty and dread in the hearts of information practitioners. Most will encounter it during the course of their professional career; some even inherit it as a "poisoned chalice", taking on the heavy duty (and often thankless task) of ensuring licence compliance.
Copyright continues to be a source of great confusion to those working in the information profession. The complexities of copyright frustrate those who have to make sense of the law in their professional duties, particularly when it significantly restricts or complicates the work that they want to do. But is copyright law about to change for the better? The Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property made 10 recommendations to the UK government, two-thirds of which were about copyright. The Review contained proposals to widen the exceptions to copyright and there is currently an open consultation to discuss the impact that these amendments would have on all involved.
Copyright should not hinder key organisational activities such as storage and preservation, copying for non-commercial research, use of works in education, and the access to and use of works by people with disabilities. It is currently not lawful to digitise audio-visual works without the permission of the rightsholder, which becomes a real problem when they cannot be traced. This greatly restricts opportunities to make collections available on websites, because to digitise these so-called “orphan works” is a risky process and exposes the organisation to liability of copyright infringement. The government also proposes to legislate to allow organisations who wish to digitise orphan works to do so without the risk of being penalised for copyright infringement. In order to comply with the legislation, organisations would be required to conduct a diligent search for the rightsholders. A central registry of orphan works would also be set up with the aim of reuniting orphans with their original creators.
In addition to the orphan works proposal is that of extended collective licensing which would allow organisations to digitise works en masse without having to clear rights for each individual work. Collecting societies would set up an opt-out scheme allowing authors or creators to be able to exempt themselves if they do not want their works to be included. The onus of responsibility of finding the rightsholders for any orphan works included in the projects would be on the collecting societies, which would relieve information professionals of that additional administrative burden. A final proposal is that contracts (notably licence agreements) should not be permitted to restrict the legal exceptions to copyright. However, these proposals to amend copyright law are controversial and rightsholders are concerned that they will lose out on significant revenue as a result.
The government is looking for evidence either to support or dismiss these proposals. Evidence can be either quantitative or qualitative (anecdotal or narrative). If any of the proposed changes to copyright law would benefit you and/or your organisation, you should submit a response. Administrative costs of legal compliance in terms of staff time spent on achieving it would be significant evidence to include, particularly when translated into actual cost to the organisation. The consultation is open until 21 March and is available from the Intellectual Property Office’s website.
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