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Netherlands plans to make 'copyrighted material easier to use'

EU copyright law 'too rigid', says state committee

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The Dutch Government is proposing to make it easier to use copyrighted material without infringing copyright owners' rights and plans to do this "unilaterally" of the EU, according to media in the Netherlands.

Bernt Hugenholtz of the Dutch state committee on copyright law said people should be able to use copyrighted works to form "creative remixes" but that EU copyright law is too rigid to allow that to happen legally at the moment. He said US copyright laws allow better freedoms to use copyrighted works legitimately, a report by Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) said.

The Dutch Deputy Justice Minister, Fred Teeven, said the government would "unilaterally" liberalise the use of copyright and said he is looking into "a more flexible system of copyright exceptions that would also work in a European context," according to RNW's report. The European Commission has previously stated its intention to harmonise copyright law in the EU.

"Many of the videos we find [on YouTube] are creative remixes of material protected under copyright. They're mostly for laughs or political commentary, or they're simply absurd. If we applied the law today strictly, we would not be allowed to do these things," Hugenholtz said, according to the RNW report.

"Freedom is a good thing. We all agree that it's good for creativity, good for laughs, and no one gets hurt. Copyright holders are not harmed, so it makes a lot of sense to allow this. But in Europe, where we do not have open norms like the fair use doctrine in the United States, we can't do these things without infringing the law," he said.

In the US the 'fair use' exemption in copyright law allows copyright material to be reproduced for the purposes of research and education, commentary, criticism and reporting.

Under the EU's 11-year-old Copyright Directive, individual member states can choose whether and what exceptions or limitations to copyright to write into national law. The possible exceptions include the right to legitimately use copyrighted works for private copying purposes, as illustrations in teaching or scientific research, as part of news coverage, for the purposes of criticism or review and for parody and pastiche.

The European Commission is currently working on plans to create a new copyright licensing system that would establish a "level playing field in the single market for collective management of rights" and has already consulted on whether a harmonisation of copyright laws is required to achieve this.

Currently the UK has limited exemption for 'fair dealing' in copyright-protected material. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act allows 'fair dealing' of copyright works in non-commercial research, in reviews and criticisms and as part of news reports without being deemed to infringe the rights of copyright owners. The Act also permits copyright works to be used incidentally as part of sound recordings, films and artistic works.

Last May the government was advised to introduce a right to parody as well as make private copies of copyrighted works, amongst other exceptions, into UK law. The recommendations were made by university professor Ian Hargreaves who had been commissioned to conduct a review of the UK's intellectual property framework. Subsequently the government has begun consulting on those proposals.

The Dutch plans to further liberalise copyrighted material was supported by a lawyer at internet giant Google. Fred von Lohmann said new technologies present opportunities to grow profits rather than a threat to copyright holders and that EU copyright law can be modified rather than overhauled to make it "future-proof," the RNW report said.

"If you look at the motion picture industry, you see that they continue to enjoy very healthy revenues. On the other hand the music industry has struggled somewhat. But in the end there are more opportunities being created by these new technologies than ever before. There are more bands, using more different technologies to reach more fans than ever before. So there is certainly no crisis of creativity. There's more music, more video, more writing going on today than ever before," Von Lohmann, chief copyright counsel for Google, said.

Copyright © 2012, OUT-LAW.com

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

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