The government’s controversial plans to block unlawful file sharing websites were scrapped today by Vince Cable. Brought in by the last government in the hastily put together Digital Economy Act, the plans to force ISPs to block websites was shown to be unworkable in a detailed report from Ofcom.
The report, withdrawn embarrassingly hours after publication when it emerged that the redacted sections of the report could be read by simply cutting and pasting the document, detailed how website blocking as set out in the DEAct could be easily circumvented, would not be suitable for reducing copyright infringement and was too open to legitimate websites being blocked.
However the victory, supported by MPs Don Foster and Julian Huppert, is not all it seems. You may have read in the news yesterday that the Motion Picture Association successfully took BT to court to force them to block the file sharing website Newzbin2, so despite Cable’s announcement we effectively have a system that allows the blocking of websites anyway.
Sweeping changes to copyright law
Another major announcement today was that the government plans to support all ten recommendations as set out in the Hargreaves review, which could yield as much as 0.6% GDP increase for the British Economy.
The largest reform is a streamlining to the way rights are currently cleared. The government intends to adopt a Digital Copyright Exchange, to allow rights holders and businesses to automatically and efficiently trade licenses, rather than automatically enter a protracted and costly negotiation process as is currently necessary. This alone could add £2bn to the UK economy by 2020.
Another major reform was support for text and data mining. This will come as a major boost for medical researchers, as it allows vast amounts of research papers and data to be ‘mined’ for information without having to seek rights clearance for each individual document – something of an impossibility if you are skimming through millions of documents looking for specific information.
Other changes announced include:
- Allowing parodies of existing works (e.g. mocking an existing film or song by borrowing its most distinctive parts)
- The ability to privately copy without breaking the law (e.g. to copy your CD’s to your iPod as millions already do)
- A small claims court for copyright infringement (allowing individual rights holders to easily pursue claims of up to £5000).
As a former BBC employee, I was particularly delighted to hear that the government intends to find a solution for works (e.g. a film, performance, song, pictures etc) for which the rights holder cannot be found. This will pave the way for much of the BBC archive to be made available to the public, and for organisations such as the British library to be able to make use of some of the hundreds of thousands of works they hold which fall into this category that are current lying gathering dust.