Major Copyright Overhaul Long Overdue
Copyright laws governing the UK’s creative industries are outdated and need to be radically overhauled to fit in with today’s modern and digital society, says the National Consumer Council. The NCC declaration is targeted at the former editor of The Financial Times, Andrew Gowers, who is currently reviewing the UK’s intellectual property framework.
Gowers has been told by the Council that although other areas of Intellectual Property remain important to consumers, the copyright regime is the cause of particular difficulties.
“The copyright regime, which was designed for the analogue world, has proved unfit for the challenges of the digital revolution,” the Council said in its submission. “Digital technology has radically changed distribution models in many sectors, and led to major tensions between IP rights holder – particularly music companies – and consumers.” .
Supporting its claims, the Council commissioned YouGov to probe the attitudes of over 2,000 Britons, aged 18 or over, on today’s copyright regime.
Ominously for music companies, almost 60 per cent of respondents said it was “perfectly legal” to copy the contents of music CDs onto other systems, such as a computer or an MP3 player. Just over 20 per cent admitted they didn’t know if copying CDs was illegal for personal use in their own homes, but the lowest number of respondents – just 18 per cent- knew it was against the law.
“The law is out of step with modern life and discriminates unfairly against consumers [by] putting unrealistic limits on their private listening and viewing habits,” NCC said in a statement.
On behalf of consumers, Jill Johnstone, author of the NCC submission, believes any future development of IP law ought to be based on an impartial assessment of the “costs and benefits to society as a whole.”
“‘We need to shake up the copyright law to incorporate consumers’ ‘fair use’ rights - including the right to copy for private use,” she said.
The appeal to the Review team includes a challenge to the long periods of copyright protection currently IP holders are afforded.
“Whether for films, literary or musical works, sound recordings or broadcasts, the length of all copyright terms should be reduced to fit more closely the time period over which most financial returns are normally made,” Ms Johnstone said.
“The current campaign by the music industry to extend copyright terms for sound recordings beyond 50 years has no justification. Evidence shows that music companies generally make returns on material in a matter of years not decades. Current terms already provide excessive protection of intellectual property rights at a cost to consumers.”
The Consumer Council also recommends consumer rights should be incorporated into copyright legislation, primarily by amending the UK law, clearly granting the right to copy for private use.
Supporting action should include influencing the EU copyright review to provide clear consumer rights in European law.
Concluding its recommendations for how copyright law can become ‘fit’ for society, the Council says criminal sanctions for copyright infringement should be given out only to organised criminals.