The UK Government has been criticised on a number of fronts in the last week in the context of its privacy laws – see the European Commissioner’s rap on the knuckles for the UK’s ‘liberal approach to data protection’ and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust’s report on the UK Government’s intrusive databases.
We will follow these data protection issues and blog about them in due course. However, in light of last week's Pirate Bay decision (the topic of our last post), we have decided to focus on the UK’s copyright laws, which have been criticised in a report by Consumers International, the international consumer rights organisation.
On its blog, Consumers International emphasises that IP is a consumer issue because although the “intellectual property system is often portrayed as a battleground in which the creators of content are pitted against lawless "counterfeiters" and "pirates”…the biggest impact of harsh intellectual property laws has not been on commercial counterfeiters, but on ordinary consumers.” The biggest bugbear is that some countries’ laws are out of sync with new technologies and consumer expectations (e.g. format shifting):
“These unbalanced laws prohibit everyday activities such as uploading a home video with music to YouTube, backing up your DVD collection, creating a fan website - even, in many countries, using a VCR or an iPod. Even if these laws are not enforced (which, too often, they are), they wrongly allow consumers to be branded as thieves and outlaws.”
Consumers International’s country report on the UK concludes that “UK copyright law is substantially different from that of other countries. It is generally very restrictive. Copyright is treated as [a] property right…There are no fair use exception[s] in UK law, only some limited permitted acts. There is no provision that may be termed “private copying” exception and UK copyright law does not distinguish between private or corporate copyright infringement...Non-profit or private use are generally not a mitigating factor in UK law.”
But the flip side of the coin is that the UK copyright system incentivises creativity and protects rightsholders. The UK Creative Industries are a major source of export-driven revenue for UK plc and those industries are underpinned by copyright. So consumer demands must be balanced with safeguarding the well being of those industries.
The overall message is that we need to strike a balance in protecting creativity and investment whilst meeting the demands of new technology and consumer expectations.
Laurence Kaye / Yasmin Joomraty