Proposed changes to copyright law

Rights to bang?

JOURNALISTS naturally tend to believe that it is a good thing for it to be possible to make a living out of activities like journalism. Freelances tend to believe that it is a good thing to be able to do this independently, rather than in a Proper Job. But this is not just arbitrary self-interest.

A peek into the world of online blogs, for example, will reveal that the excellent few are done by people who can devote time to being, well, professional: many of them by making a living out of them. Some of the amateur efforts many have their charms, but most only a mother could love them.

And copyright, is of course, the foundation of being able to make a living out of producing work that can be copied. And it has been decreed that it will change.

The biggest specific change proposed is to make it legal for private individuals to copy "works" for personal use. The argument put is that it's a bit nonsensical that in the UK it is not legal to copy a tune you've paid for onto your iPod™.

But in the age of media convergence, even if "works" were restricted to sound recordings, that'd mean copying of those podcasts we're all likely to get asked to do (for free, of course) sooner or later. And in every country in Europe where such "private copying" is legal, authors (a term that, once more, includes photographers) are compensated. Those countries' governments set a levy on recording media such as blank DVDs, memory sticks, iPods, and so on. The proceeds are divvied up, in much the same way that photocopying money is in the UK (see Money for free!).

European law, indeed, spells out that authors must be fairly compensated for private copying. The UK government is dead against levies. It proposes that in this case the appropriate fair compensation is...  zero.

Could there be, instead of the trusty levy, something like Public Lending Right, where the government allocates a sum from taxation to be distributed according to a survey of borrowing? But the fragility of such a scheme is hinted at by separate propsals to cut funding for PLR (see Sign up and save an author...).

Another proposal of concern to some journalists is to extend the permission given to educational institutions to copy material (in the jargon, this is an "exception" to the exclusive right of the author or copyright owner to authorise copying). This one's a bit different, because it's a stick to beat us into agreeing a licensing scheme through which we get some carrots - money. But it's all about colleges giving up their antiquated buildings and having students study - online - in their rented antiquated buildings, as one university administrator put it. Would giving students access online, the cost included in their tuition fee, mean works "leaked" into the de facto free domain? You bet.

The final issue is the odd proposal by the Treasury's Gowers Review, which led to all this, to legislate for parody and pastiche. Like we have a national shortage of parody as things are. We wanted to explain what this one means, but discussing the legislative details is the legal equivalent of lying on the sofa with a spliff. Apparently.

How, for example, would you maintain your right as author to defend the integrity of your work - rather important for news reporting, we think, even if it doesn't exist for news reporting - when the whole point of parody is to breach that integrity? Is parody more fun when it's illegal, anyway?

Our response to the first round of consultation on these changes will from 8 April be at - and we welcome your constructive comments and suggestions - in email and at the House of Commons on 12 May (see LFB meeting calendar).

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