UK: Copyright Developments In 2014: A Quick Overview

Last Updated: 29 April 2014
Article by Mark A. Prinsley and Sarah Byrt

Copyright Update

The UK and European copyright framework is undergoing some substantial changes which will impact on businesses and consumers alike. Several measures aimed at modernising the law of copyright have come into effect recently, while others are in the pipeline.

Reforms to copyright exceptions

There are a number of acts which may lawfully be carried out in relation to a work which is protected by copyright. The UK Government has limited room for manoeuvre, as it must keep within the parameters of EU copyright law, but has proposed changes following a consultation process. The changes are set out in five regulations currently before the UK Parliament, which, if approved, are expected to come into force on 1 June 2014. These are summarised below.

Personal copies for private use

Individuals who own copyright works will be allowed to make further copies of the works for their own private, non-commercial use. This brings the law in line with what consumers already expect, as it enables them to 'rip' CDs which they own so that they can transfer the songs to MP3 players and other portable music devices. Similarly, consumers will be able to make copies of music or video files for the purposes of backing up their data. The creative industries fear that the limits on the right to make personal copies will be hard to police and so further erode sales.

Quotation and parody

The existing exception for criticism or review will be expanded, so that the use of a quotation from a work will not infringe the copyright, as long as the source is acknowledged and the use of the quotation is "fair" and is no more than what is required. Moreover, a new exception for parody, caricature and pastiche will be introduced, again qualified by fairness.

The UK Government hopes that this exception will enable digital creation and re-mixing. The change only affects copyright law, not trade marks, but brand owners will want to consider how it could enable their packaging and advertising to be parodied, for example.

Other exceptions

The draft legislation also deals with copying for the purposes of non-commercial research and private study (including electronic text and data analysis); non-commercial copying by schools and universities; various reforms which make it easier for public bodies to use copyright material and, in some circumstances, make them available for online access to the public; and copying by visually impaired people.

New case law on hyperlinks

The use of hyperlinks to link to a website is a fundamental aspect of the working of the internet but it is only recently that the Court of Justice of the European Union had to grapple with the question of whether using a hyperlink on one website to link to another site which contains copyright material is an infringement. This is relevant, for example, where a blog links to a news article or a product website links to reviews.

The Court held that the use of these links would not normally infringe copyright, unless they provide access to the copyright work to users who would otherwise not be able to access the content in question, for instance where they circumvent passwords or sites which require subscriptions.

The European Commission has also identified the use of links to online content as an area which might need further clarification. For example, the Court did not determine how this affects websites which provide links to infringing content, such as MegaUpload. Similarly, it did not determine whether 'framing', where a video is embedded into a website, would infringe copyright in the video.

Other changes

The copyright regime is also developing rapidly in other respects, and this will be an interesting year. 2014 has already seen the extension of the length of copyright protection for sound recordings and performers' rights from 50 to 70 years. In addition:

  • the UK Government is considering setting up an industry-led and industry-funded Copyright Hub which will provide information to consumers and rights-holders, and operate a register to help with automating the copyright licensing process;
  • consultations are under way on how orphan works (works for which the author is not known) are to be regulated and licensed;
  • both the UK and the EU are reforming the laws relating to the working of collecting societies (e.g. in the music sector) with a view to ensuring that collective rights management is more transparent;
  • The Court of Justice of the European Union has recently ruled that an Internet Service Provider may be ordered to block customers' access to a website which contains infringing material, provided it does not unnecessarily prevent access to lawful material;
  • and the European Commission is also considering action to make cross-border services more user-friendly, for instance by enabling a UK-based consumer to use their subscription for a video streaming service while abroad.

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