UK's copyright laws set for dramatic overhaul

Nick Clark
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:38

An independent review that could lead to a dramatic overhaul of copyright law in Britain is finally scheduled to be released next week. The Hargreaves Review into the country's intellectual-property framework, launched by the Prime Minister in November, had been due for publication in April but was delayed until after the local elections. However, The Independent has learned that Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, will tomorrow join the academic Ian Hargreaves, who chaired the inquiry, at a briefing for key industry figures. The review's findings will then be formally made public next week.

The review was launched amid concerns that Britain's copyright laws have not kept pace with digital developments – particularly the question of how to protect the interests of copyright owners without preventing entrepreneurs from exploiting opportunities online.

One of the figures due at tomorrow's briefing said last night: "We are expecting an endorsement of the importance of intellectual property to the economic success of the UK."

One key question is whether the review will recommend the introduction of US-style "fair use" provision, enabling internet operators to use limited amounts of other people's content without seeking their permission. A majority of small to medium-sized digital companies in the UK have called for this and the change was floated as a possibility by Mr Cameron.

However, the "fair use" issue has emerged as the most contentious of the review, as senior figures among content providers, including the music and film industries, lobbying heavily against its introduction.

One insider at a content provider said the industry believed it had won the day on the issue. "Hunt will say some warm words about the rule but is likely to say it is not appropriate and that the UK is constrained on a European basis," he said.

The inquiry has also considered the cost and complexity for small and medium-sized enterprises of protecting and exploiting their intellectual property. "The review will talk up the importance of intellectual property rights and of enforcement in a digital age," another source said. "It is likely to call on novel ways for the industry to bring content to the users."

Another key issue is that of format shifting – possibly with a call to end the anomaly that downloading a CD on to an MP3 player technically breaches copyright laws, despite it being a generally accepted practice.

The Hargreaves Review has attracted hundreds of submissions from legal firms, trade bodies and content providers such as the BBC, as well as telecoms companies, online giants including Google and eBay and universities around the country.

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