Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Copyright in the digital age - BIALL Audioconference

I was very fortunate to be able to get a place on an audioconference being organised by the BIALL Solos group (BIALL has a number of spin-off groups for various parts of the country/types of librarian) on 24th Nov 2011. Although not officially a solo librarian any more, I used to be one for some time and so am still part of this group. When I read about this seminar it was of great interest to me, because copyright in the age of technology is a fast-changing and evolving field, and is something that I only have a basic knowledge of - but would like to learn more. One of my managers acts as copyright officer for the firm, therefore she is out 'go-to' person with any queries, but just for my own development, I would like to know more, and this free telephone conference lasting only an hour was the ideal way of doing so.

CLA License
The seminar was hosted by Chris Holland, who used to work at the Law Society. The first part was dedicated to going through the proposed changes to CLA Licenses (Copyright Licensing Agency). Every law firm needs to be in possession of a licence from the CLA in order to allow them to make photocopies and store materials within reason.  The problem with the proposed changes are not just about the potential 40% hike in price, but also because in terms of licensing digital content, this is something that we often have separate agreements for with each of our vendors. Lexis do not want CLA to license their content, nor do we as a firm wish to pay effectively twice for copyright licensing. Another issue that was raised is that firms are increasngly doing less and less hard copy photocopying as a whole, therefore people don't want to pay a full copyright license fee for copying that they rarely actually carry out.

It was clear from the vocal reaction of many participants that the CLA license is a thorny issue and it will be interesting to see how the situation is resolved. At the end of the day, the CLA as a body still need to make money, while the law firms are becoming more and more resistant to paying certain fees, as the way we copy has changed so much. Certainly in our firm I can understand why it is an issue; we really do not copy from hard copies on a regular basis at all anymore - almost everything is online in one shape or another.

NLA Licence
We then moved onto discussing the licensing arrangements that each firm has in place for newspaper usage. At present there a range of licenses depending on your organisation size/turnover and business needs. Changes that affect this side of things, however, are newspapers like The Times and the Financial Times, who have created a paywall in terms of access to their content, and perhaps the biggest issue to date is this year's NLA v Meltwater case. This was a case that attracted a lot of attention because the NLA maintained that users of a news aggregation service (Meltwater) needed a license to receive the info, even though it was just a headline and summary - the judge maintained that the NLA were in the right and their copyright was being infringed - this small amount of info can be classed as a substantial part of an article. But Meltwater were relying on the 'temporary copies' provision of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, which was meant to allow for the titles of work to be used - but things have moved on in the digital age, and this is why we are running into such problems nowadays.

There a number of licenses under discussion at present; it looks like we shall be hearing debate on both the CLA and NLA licenses for some time to come.

I definitely found this part of the discussion to be highly topical to what we do in the library, and it was interesting to learn more about what actual licensing agreements firms have in place, as this is something that at present is negotiated by our copyright officer (one of my managers as already mentioned). However, I think it is vital that in order to progress within this field, I acquire a good grasp of what the issues are in this respect, as adhering to copyright law is an extremely important part of managing any library.

General changes to copyright in the EU/UK
We spent the last half of the audioconference discussing what other issues are impacting upon copyright law at present. One of the biggest issues facing Intellectual Property law in the UK right now is the Hargreaves Review. This is a review of IP law that was commissioned by the Government in order to ascertain what works and what doesn't work/needs revision etc, in light of the digital age we now find ourselves in. Prof Hargreaves was pretty critical of copyright laws in the UK, stating that at present, it is a barrier to economic growth. This is said to be due to the difficulties that people face in obtaining permission to use copyrighted material. He proposes the establishing of a Digital Copyright Exchange, which would be an online, straightforward means of getting clearance rights. Vince Cable announced only a couple of weeks ago that Richard Hooper has been tasked with investigating how to take this proposal forward. The Government are strongly of the opinion that it will open up the UK's IP systems for the better.

Another major issue we touched upon is the EU Copyright Directive. Chris maintained that many believe that the copyright exceptions contained in this directive should be far more generally implemented in UK law - at present, they are not mandatory, only optional. Therefore at present, EU member states can effectively pick and choose what they want and don't want to implement! Hargreaves states that allowing all of the exceptions to be implented would also assist.

Orphan Works
Orphan works are basically pieces of work for which the copyright owner cannot be contacted. This presents a huge problem to an institution like the British Library who want to digitise their collection - how can they do so if they cannot obtain permission for certain works? Furthermore, getting in touch with each individual copyright owner is simply logistically impossible! This is an example of how current copyright restrictions are thought to be standing in the way of letting our cultural heritage evolve. It is certainly a valid point in my opinion, and one to which I hadn't given a lot of thought until now. It does seem rather silly that we have moved on in so many ways in the last 20 years - probably technology has evolved more in that short time than at any other time! - yet we remain bound by what now appear to be somewhat antiquated laws that certainly don't suit today's 'digital economy'.

Digital Economy Act 2010
The Digital Economy Act 2010 is an Act that was pushed through very quickly at the end of Gordon Brown's parliamentary reign. Its purpose is to completely overhaul Intellectual Property law and make it fit for the digital age. There was initially some doubt as to whether the new coalition government would take it forward, but it does seem that they are moderately keen to implement it. One of the main issues they wish to tackle is illegal file sharing/copyright infringement, and Chris mentioned that this does have an effect on libraries - although perhaps not quite so much for corporate libraries such as this one. However, he stated that many librarians are concerned that the legislation has not only been pushed through too quickly, but that the expectations of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are just too high. If ISPs are expected to tackle illegal file sharing, this could have implications for libraries that provide free wi-fi, for example. People believe that there is just too much onus being placed on ISPs to police the Internet - although copyright owners will be the ones who pass the info on to ISPs about people they believe are infringing their copyright.

The Digital Economy Act is an absolute minefield and is something that I have a vested interest in, given the work I do for our IP team. There is a huge amount of debate ongoing over it - we barely scraped the surface in our audioconference as was simply neither the time nor the place.

This was an absolutely fantastic seminar and I am so glad that I decided to participate. It gave me an excellent overview of the issues we face in terms of copyright, not just in the law library but on a more general level too. Chris Holland delivered the points in a concise and clear way that really enabled me to make sense of things. It is definitely an area about which I would love to learn more, and am considering speaking to my manager  who deals with this area, about getting a bit more involved/helping her out with it.

Image courtesy of: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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