Digital Opportunity review says Government must reform 300-year-old laws
The UK's copyright and intellectual property (IP) laws are 300 years out of date and need radical reform, an independent review has concluded.
Professor Ian Hargreaves who carried out the Digital Opportunity review, said: "Could it be true that laws designed more than three centuries ago with the express purpose of creating economic incentives for innovation by protecting creators' rights are today obstructing innovation and economic growth?
"The short answer is: yes. We have found that the UK's intellectual property framework, especially with regard to copyright, is falling behind what is needed."
One of the main areas of investigation for the review was the issue of copying digital media. Currently it is illegal to make personal copies of media such as music and movies unless expressly permitted.
This is a common practice among people in the UK, but a survey published by Consumer Focus in February 2010 found that 73 per cent of consumers do not know what they are allowed to copy or record.
The report has therefore recommended making copying for private purposes legal; including allowing people to put these on a number of different devices, known as format shifting.
"It is difficult for anyone to understand why it is legal to lend a friend a book, but not a digital music file. This puts the law into confusion and disrepute. It is not a tenable state of affairs," Hargreaves concluded.
The report also said this legal right should be extended to research and academia: "Senior figures and institutions in the university sector have told the Review of the urgent need reform copyright to realise opportunities, and to make it clear what researchers and educators are allowed to do."
Welcoming the report, Mike O'Connor, Consumer Focus chief executive said: "Our copyright regime is out of date and out of touch. The introduction of a format-shifting exception in UK copyright law would be fantastic news for consumers.
"The key now is for the recommendations to be implemented, unlike the Gowers review four years ago."
In addition the review said Government should legislate to permit people access to orphan works; ones where the copyright owner cannot be traced.
Pointing out the economic benefits the report concluded: "It is very possible that some real discoveries are hidden in these archives and it is certain that new generations of creators will use some of these works in new ways - just as Romeo and Juliet led to West Side Story and scores of other adaptations - allowing new economic value to be realised. Opening up orphan works is a move to which there is no national economic downside."
The report also recommended establishing a 'Digital Copyright Exchange', a type of online copyright shop where licences could be bought and sold.
However, the concept of ‘fair usage', which allows people a limited use copyright material without permission or paying for it as happens in the US, is not one of the review's main recommendations.
While acknowledging some of the organisations, such as the BPI, who have lobbied against fair usage had some important points, this didn't stop Hargreaves taking a swipe at the opposition.
"In response to the arguments against fair use, it is also worth noting that the creative industries continue to flourish in the US in the context of copyright law which includes fair use.
"It is likewise true that many large UK creative companies operate very successfully on both sides of the Atlantic in spite of these differences in law.
"This may indicate that the differences in the American and European legal approaches to copyright are less troublesome than polarised debate suggests.
"But this does not stop important American creative businesses, such as the film industry, arguing passionately that the UK and Europe should resist the adoption of the same US style fair use approach with which these firms co-exist in their home market," the report said.
Professor Hargreaves said now the review was in the Government's hands it should base its opinions on "objective evidence" as "there is no doubt that the persuasive powers of celebrities and important UK creative companies have distorted policy outcomes".
The Government said it would now review the recommendations and hopes to make a full response next month before the summer recess.
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