Reform school

CopyrightReformI would be failing in my duty as a copyright librarian if I didn’t mention the fact that there are important changes afoot in copyright law.

There are important changes afoot in copyright law!

Part of why they’re important is that they’re the first significant changes to copyright law since the 2003 Copyright and Related Rights Regulations and possibly even since the Copyright Designs and Patents Act came into force way back in 1988.

When you find out what the some of the changes are you’ll realise that they won’t address half of the issues copyright law throws up but they are important. Honestly. For one thing, it’s so rare that the UK Government gets itself together sufficiently to a) propose and consult on changes to copyright law and then b) get as far as implementing them, that any commitment to think again about outmoded legislation like this must by definition represent some progress. For another thing, the changes will at least begin to tackle the huge disparity which has developed since 1988 between, on the one hand, what has become practically possible as technology has developed, and on the other what is legally permissible .

For anyone who doesn’t have much of a stomach for the minutiae of legislation (and who does, frankly?), here’s my bluffer’s guide to some of the changes which will affect us in higher education. (Copyright librarian’s disclaimer!: this list isn’t meant to be comprehensive and it’s not possible to be 100% accurate since some of the detail won’t be finally decided until the changes come into force until next April.)

  • The changes aim to level the playing field between the worlds of print and the digital. There are allowances for printed works in the current law but not for online material (such a thing hardly existed in 1988, after all). As an example, the new law will allow you to make your own copy of digital material for non-commercial private study. Currently the allowance is only for printed material.
  • Sound recordings, films and TV broadcasts are to be included in parts of the law where they weren’t before. For instance, a library will be able to make a copy for preservation purposes no matter what the format. Currently you can only do this for print material.
  • There’s a new allowance for use of quotations which removes the current need for criticism and review.
  • There are new entitlements for parody, caricature and pastiche.
  • The scope for re-use of materials for disabled users has been widened to cover all impairments, not just visual ones, as is currently the case.
  • At present, contract law overrules copyright law. What this means is that where material is made available under a contract or licence, its terms dictate what you can and can’t do with that material even if what you’re wanting to do is actually allowed by copyright law. For example, there can be a clause in an e-book licence which forbids you from copying and pasting quotes into another resource. Copyright law allows you to do this in certain circumstances (like criticism and review) but in practice you are still bound by the licence restrictions. Put at its simplest, the new law will mean that copyright entitlements will hold sway. Licence terms will no longer be able to overrule them.

And breathe.

It’s quite likely that you are staggered by the amount of basic tasks listed above which are still not permitted by current legislation. And even if the virtue of the new proposals is only that they will legalise what many of us are already doing, the changes are still important ones. I think it’s the principle which counts, the fact that some small steps are being taken and that those in high places are showing some interest in removing some of the legalistic barriers between the interests of copyright owners and those of us trying to go about our business in higher education.

(For those interested, there is a more detailed analysis of the proposals on the Copyright for Education blog.)

(Images courtesy of Mimi and Eunice and xkcd.)outraged

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