Minister gives comfort on copyright
GOVERNMENT plans for changes to copyright law have been clarified in debate in the House of Lords. The NUJ raised concerns through the Creators' Rights Alliance (CRA), with the result that we got six pages of commitments from the Minster, Viscount Younger. The Lords we were talking with did not press any amendments to a vote, the Minister's responses being the point.
The next stage of the Bill is, at the time of writing, scheduled for 16 April, when the Commons considers amendments introduced by the government in the Lords. These include removing what looked like a new power to change the "exceptions" to copyright - the conditions in which your work can be used without your permission or payment to you.
A government statement of its precise proposals on these exceptions is imminent. We also await the promised meeting with the minister on the imposition of unfair contracts on creators (that's us).
The proposal in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill on which we focused was that dealing with "Extended Collective Licensing" (ECL), which would allow organisations such as the BBC or the British Library to write a cheque to each of the collecting societies for the right to make its archive available. This would leave the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society and the Design and Artists Copyright Society to distribute money to journalists, when it finds us - so register now, at www.alcs.co.uk and www.dacs.org.uk respectively.
The minister has made clear that the "statutory instrument" implementing the details of the scheme will provide that:
- only a collecting society that shows it is representative of creators may apply to him for authorisation to issue ECL;
- the collecting society will have to show that its members consent to the application, probably through a ballot;
- such authorisations will be regulated, and revocable;
- no organisation can grant itself any licence to use works; and
- it will be easy for creators to opt out of any collective licence that is eventually granted.
There's still an issue around unclaimed monies. The CRA is lobbying for these to be applied for the benefit of creators as a whole, for example for training and education. The Intellectual Property Office proposal that this money should go to the Treasury is not quite dead, but is strongly opposed by the libraries as well as creators.
Another proposal that frightened many is for licensing "orphan works" - those for whom no creator or other owner can be located. Broadly the same safeguards will apply as for ECL. The NUJ/CRA demand that such licences be issued only for a fee payable in advance - reflecting the market value of the work - is confirmed. Lord Howarth pushed to the vote an amendment opposing this. The minister's argument against him reflected the CRA's argument that any other approach would distort the market in which we work, and he was defeated. The statutory instrument will set out what constitutes a "diligent search" for the creator of a work.
There's much more detail linked below.