Copyright Exceptions in the UK

The UK government has announced its plans to widen the scope of copyright exceptions in its law, to allow the public to copy more works without the need to acquire the permission of the author.The copyright law is not meant to provide authors with an absolute right over their creations, but it aims to provide them with sufficient rights so they have an incentive to create new works, and have these rights balanced against society’s right for fair access to these works.

A lot of people around the world believe that copyright law has lost touch with the reality of how the public consumes copyright works. However, due to the influence major corporations have over many of the legislative systems around the world, the copyright law has continued attempting to impose more and more restrictions on how copyright works can be used by the public, even if these rights are rarely respected.

In a move uncommon nowadays, the UK government has announced that it plans to issue a new legislation that will reduce the scope of protection of copyright law. This will provide users with more rights for using some copyright works, without the need to acquire the prior permission of the owner of the copyright.

The UK copyright law already has some exceptions to copyright protection, such as those that allow users to copy some works for criticism and review, and those that allow copying for the purpose of private non-commercial research.

The new copyright exceptions to be introduced by the UK will allow copying for a number of different purposes. One of these exceptions will allow the owner of a legitimate copy of copyright work to make additional copies of that work, to be able to use the work on a different device.

Another exception will allow copying a work to create a parody or caricature. Some of the new exceptions will expand the scope of existing rights such as the exception for private study and research and the exception for reporting news and current events.

Some of the ‘soon to be legal’ acts emphasise how ridiculous the copyright law currently is in some instances, such as the fact that an explicit exception has to be included in the law to allow a user to rip off music from a CD he legally bought, to play that music on a portable music player. Creating such a copy without permission from the author is technically an infringement of the current copyright law, even though nobody ever got prosecuted for it.

The introduction of these new exceptions is a positive move for the development of copyright law in the UK, but it will not solve many of the other more serious problems with the copyright law. These include the fact that protection is granted automatically to all works created by anyone, regardless of whether or not the author desires to have that protection, the fact that the protection lasts for an unreasonable amount of time, and the unnecessary and ineffective protection of technological protection measures applied to copyright works.

It is also worth noting that legislative changes to the UK copyright law will still not provide the UK with a general copyright exception similar to the fair use principle found in the US. The US fair use exception is a general exception that allows the judge to look at the nature of the copying instance and then decide, based on its facts, whether or not the usage is fair. The UK exceptions will not allow the judge to excuse an instance of copying, even if it is fair, if that specific use is not explicitly mentioned in the law.

Even with all the limitations of the soon to be introduced exceptions in the UK, the fact that copyright law is being changed to become less restrictive is a good development for copyright law. Unfortunately, the law in Oman is similar to the UK in its restrictive nature and does not, in fact, still allow for many of these exceptions proposed by the UK government. It would be helpful if we can learn from their experience when we consider updating the law here.