Vince Cable scraps Labour plans to block websites, outlines widespread changes to our copyright law

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The report, withdrawn embarrassingly hours after publication when it emerged that the redacted sections of the report could be read by simply cutting and pasting the document,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.

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  • I agree that the Act was a bit of a mess. However assigning ownership of it to Labour seems a little bit opportunistic given that it passed with Conservatives support…

  • Good news. This would never be workable in practice as there is always a way around things.

    When the bill was first introduced by Labour, I thought to myself “has nobody explained to them there is this little thing called a proxy?”

  • Some mistake surely, Cameron appears to have allowed a Lib Dem minister to announce something which is likely to be popular.

  • Having joined the NUJ I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised to find myself in more agreement with them than this article…

  • Paul Thompson 6th Aug '11 - 10:32pm

    MPage3, I wrote this article. The NUJ are talking about Orphan works, and these were not included in the Hargreaves review as they were seen to be outside of the scope of the review (Hargreaves considered them not to be of commercial value, however contentious that may be).

    I’m confused at the NUJ article, as they seem only to be objecting to the lack of moral rights in the Hargreaves review, yet welcome several other aspects. On orphan works (like most creators) they don’t seem to have an issue with the idea of being able to use them, but they are simply concerned with the detail (something deliberately left out of the review).

    In truth, the Copyright, Designs and Patients Act does contain the correct definitions of moral rights, however it does not contain the necessary means to enforce them. Hargreaves actually gives one through the IP small claims court – which would be a huge bonus to creators. The other extension (and not covered by Hargreaves) would be to make the right to be identified unwaivable, yet any misgivings here should not be directed at Hargreaves but to BIS or DCMS.

  • Paul Thompson 6th Aug '11 - 10:33pm

    Apologies, my comment above starts with a line talking about Orphan Works, this should of course be Moral Rights. Doh!

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