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The government should not change UK copyright laws until supposed problems with the current framework can be assessed in light of how a new 'digital copyright exchange' (DCE) works, the Publishers Association has said.

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the association, said that the benefits the DCE could bring could eradicate the need for new exceptions to copyright to be introduced.

The government is currently consulting on proposed changes to the UK's intellectual property (IP) framework. The consultation was launched after the government received a report that assessed the way the current framework works from university academic Professor Ian Hargreaves. Hargreaves' report contained several recommendations, including liberalising the use of copyright in some cases.

"The DCE speaks to a market-based, fully voluntary, facilitation of licensing, where IP is respected and used as the basis for driving economic growth," Mollet said in a blog post.

"However, the consultation looks to weaken copyright, undermine licensing and forestall the development of new business models, with a clear detrimental impact on growth. The government should suspend progress with its proposed radical re-writing of copyright law until such time as the DCE has got off the ground and into operation," he said. "If, as all believe, it could greatly improve the speed and ease of copyright licensing, then many of the problems identified by Hargreaves will disappear. This will obviate the need for policies that weaken copyright and which, at the last time of checking the IPO’s assessment of their impact on growth in the British economy, were predominantly described with the phrase, worrying for its vagueness, 'not quantified'."

Following a recommendation from Hargreaves, the government launched a study into whether a new DCE was a feasible solution to problems identified with the current system of licensing copyrighted works.

Hargreaves had proposed that an online mechanism could enable rights-holders to license the use of their material through "a network of interoperable databases". He said a DCE would benefit the UK economy by up to £2bn, encourage legal use of copyrighted content and help small companies establish themselves on the market. In August the government announced its support for the proposed new licensing system, vowed to make state-owned copyrighted works available through the new exchange and said it would encourage public bodies to do likewise.

Mollet praised former Ofcom chairman Richard Hooper, who is leading the DCE feasibility study, for the "hugely refreshing" way in which he and his team had engaged with rights holders since commencing the study in November. However, he said that some discussions had been "slightly fractious" because rights-holders were reluctant to "play ball" with the government's wider "policy process" that they think would remove their rights.

The government consultation, which closes next month, proposes widening copyright exceptions to the maximum currently permitted within EU law. This includes allowing limited private copying, introducing an exemption for "parody and pastiche" and widening exceptions for library archivists and non-commercial researchers. Researchers are currently not permitted to use some computerised techniques to read data from journal articles without specific permission from the copyright owners, regardless of whether or not the researcher has already paid to access that article.

"Whatever the merits of the DCE concept, it has been difficult for many to get past the fact that it is a recommendation from the Hargreaves Review – a document which amongst other proposals recommends the end of licensing of content mining, cloud services and (we now see) photocopying in schools. There is a very natural reluctance to play ball with a policy process which looks like it wants to take your ball away," Mollet said.

Hooper had written to rights-holders asking them to give their views on whether the UK's current copyright-licensing system is fit for the digital age. The deadline for submissions has now passed. Hooper is to "examine and recommend solutions to the issues raised" with the current copyright licensing system in the UK as part of 'phase two' of his study and is due to present his findings to Parliament before the summer recess.

Copyright © 2012, OUT-LAW.com

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

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