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UK gov squeezes copyright law into cheat sheets

Contracts for dummies

The UK Government will produce 'model contracts' to be used in copyright dealings in an attempt to make copyright law more useful and understandable. It will also standardise the way copyright exceptions to copyright law are dealt with in contracts.

The Government has published a paper outlining new policies on copyright. It said the paper was necessary because digital technology is fundamentally changing the relationships between consumers, producers and copyright law.

"Digital technology means access to information on a vast scale," said David Lammy, minister of state at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. "It has changed the way people publish and consume works. It allows anyone and everyone to make and distribute quick, cheap and totally accurate copies."

"Consumers have reached out to grab the potential of this new technology. The copyright debate, once in the hands of the professionals of the creative industries, is now a debate for everyone. Businesses and governments have seen the challenges but have been slow to respond," he said.

The Government's response is to intervene to attempt to help users of copyrighted material and owners of the copyrights to better negotiate deals.

It will produce model contracts which it hopes will be easily adaptable to specific situations to ensure that a contract covers use of copyrighted material.

"The Government will draw together a group to develop model contracts or contract clauses that strike a fair balance between the rights of creators and publishers, which will form a benchmark for good practice," said its strategy paper. "These should include alternatives based on licensing of rights to publishers as well as assignment of rights, including reversion of rights where works are no longer being made available."

Copyright law restricts the use of material by people other than the rights holder but it has exceptions, situations in which users can use the material without the permission of or payment to the rights holders.

The Government has said that it could legislate to reinforce exceptions and ensure that they are accounted for in copyright contracts.

"Contracts are an important way of dealing with some of the complexities of copyright, as they can provide a degree of definiteness," said the paper. "However, some institutions such as libraries and archives are concerned that contracts undermine the exceptions that simplify and guarantee access to works."

"The Government will help bring together public institutions and publishers to establish guidelines on how contracts should reflect copyright exceptions," it said. "If agreements cannot be reached, the Government will consider the case for legislation to resolve the issues, within the scope of exceptions permitted in Europe."

It said that the Government would like to see co-ordination across the European Union to clarify the status of copyright exceptions.

"Copyright exceptions have the potential to simplify use of copyright works for consumers, educators and researchers. There are limits to what the UK can or should do within the current European regime for copyright exceptions. The Government would look favourably on moves towards a pan-European approach to copyright exceptions for the digital age," it said,

The paper also called on the EU to debate increasing the number of activities that users of copyrighted materials can undertake without payment or permission.

"The scope [A broad exception to copyright for non-commercial use] would be decided in Europe; possibilities include: creating mash-ups of sound and/or images for personal use, such as sampled music or putting a sound-track to family photos; format-shifting from CDs to MP3 on computer, phone or player; sharing mash-ups and photos with friends and family," said the paper.

It conceded, though, that such a widening of permitted non-commercial use would require "an element of fair compensation for any loss" to rights holders. It made no suggestions about how that might work.

You can see the paper here (PDF).

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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