Participation in politics is something I've been thinking about a lot recently, and one of the common complaints I hear from friends of a politically apathetic persuasion is that politics no longer represents the views of the people; we aren't consulted, and when we are, our politicians make policies that go against public opinion or welfare. That's why I'm thrilled with the outcome of the UK copyright consultation, the first sign in a long time that the government listens to its people.
As one of the Pirate Party's flagship policies – and yet one of its most abstract – copyright reform has been one of the most difficult ideas to promote. With big business at stake, copyright reform was always going to be our most difficult policy to push, and we have met with resistance from many stakeholders, including the infamous BPI. However, after years of fighting, we finally have our first major breakthrough: namely, that new copyright exceptions are set to come into law (pending review from both houses) on the 1st June 2014.
So what do the new exceptions cover? Well, it's a small but powerful set of reforms, but most notably it will provide exemption for archiving purposes, a right to quote copyrighted work for purposes beyond those of criticism (for example, parody), and a limited right to copy materials for private use, which, we're told, would cover format-changing.
A spokesperson for BIS (the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), commented on the reforms, saying, “One of these measures is copyright exception for archiving and preserving. The existing preservation exception will be updated to apply to all types of media and to museums and galleries, as well as libraries and archives.”
The new exceptions, which have been drafted ahead of the results from the wider EU copyright consultation, could mark the beginning of intellectual property law that reflects the digital age. For BIS, however, this marks a simplified understanding of copyright law that is more accessible for users. A spokesperson commented that the new exemptions removed "up to 45 pages of unnecessary rules and regulations from the statute book", making intellectual property legislation far simpler to understand and implement. Meanwhilst, a government spokesperson also remarked on the new simplicity of the law, saying, “The Government has also produced a set of eight 'plain English' guides that explain what the changes mean for different sectors … They also explain what users can and cannot do with copyright material.”
Of course, for some, the proposed changes are less than desirable. Iain Connor, an intellectual property law expert with Pinsent Masons, commented that “While the Government has attempted to put forward a balanced series of reforms that reflect the needs of society and the reality of people's personal use of music and other copyright material in a digital age, the reality is that there is little in these proposals for rights holders which is odd given the amount the creative industries contribute to the UK economy.” This is despite studies from the London School of Economics (LSE) which have shown that piracy does not hurt the entertainment industry, implying that rights holders may not suffer losses at the hands of legislative reform.
What is clear is that although we may have won the battle, we have not yet won the war. As Connor concluded accurately in his statement, “There is still the potential for last minute changes to the legislation as it passes through Parliament which means we'll only know the final impact when implemented.”