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©onsultageddon draws near

THE UK government's consultation on plans to change copyright law - dubbed "Consultageddon" by the Creators' Rights Alliance - was published in December. The deadline for responses to the 171-page document is 21 March. It outlines plans to implement all the recommendations of the Hargreaves review last year - which means it is a powerful symbolic attack on the rights of creators - including those who produce journalism in words and pictures.

Work continues feverishly to decipher what the proposals would actually mean for journalists' incomes and set priorities for campaigning.

One late addition - not recommended by Hargreaves - that has caused much alarm is a proposal to widen the "exception to copyright" under which educational establishments may use parts of works without permission or payment.

The existing "British model" of an exception that applies only until there is a licensing scheme to collect payment from schools is held up internationally as good practice - but the consultation leaves open the possibility of killing it, and depriving those who create books and other works used in schools and colleges of an important source of income through their collecting societies. The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society is collecting evidence of the effect this would have - see www.alcs.co.uk

Another proposal which is wrong in principle and, probably, in Eropean Union law is finally to legitimise the common practice of "private copying" of works - but with the mandated "fair compensation" to authors set to zero. (Photographers are "authors" for this purpose.)

There are plans to set up schemes to license use of individual "orphan works" (those whose creators cannot be identified) and - much more significantly - for "exctended collective licensing". ECL would allow organisations such as the BBC and the British Library to write one cheque to each collecting society for permission to use, for example, works in its archive - without inquiring who held rights in them.

Neither of these is acceptable unless (among other things) at the same time the law is amended to give all creators the right to be identified and to defend the integrity of their work - rights which current law denies to journalists, whether textual or visual.

Both are tied to government regulation of collecting societies. We will support the suggestion from officials that if ECL is to happen, a collecting society should need a vote of its members to approve a scheme.

Then there are the frankly sarcastic proposals - such as an exception allowing use in parodies (which would appear to require legislation to define the meaning of "funny") and to deprive anyone who writes hymns of any income at all.

The NUJ will be responding in the strongest possible terms and activists are booked up solidly with meetings with officials for the foreseeable future.

  • Richard Hooper, among other things ex-Deputy Chair of OFCOM and chair of publisher Informa, has been appointed to lead a feasability study for a "Digital Copyright Exchange". His first consultation contains two questions, the first of which boils down to: "Is copyright licensing broken? Please tick 'yes'!". We're not sure it is, unless your name is Google. Answers by 10 February.
  • And there's a consultation on the idea of a Small Claims Court to handle copyright matters - proposed by the NUJ in 2006. Please say "Yes please!" by 16 February.

Last modified: 22 Jan 2012 - © 2012 contributors
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