UK Adopts Private Copying Exception As Some Rightholders Mull Legal Action

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A new United Kingdom copyright exception for private copying cleared Parliament on 29 July and will become law in October. The change brought cheers from high-tech and digital rights groups. UK Music, however, said the new regulation will hurt creators and that it is considering legal action.

The measure, announced in March (IPW, European Policy, 31 March 2014) also updates exceptions for parody and quotation.

Those exceptions, taken with those already granted for libraries, education, research, disabled people and public bodies, “would, according to last year’s impact assessment, contribute more than £500 million to the UK economy over 10 years,” Baroness (Lucy) Neville-Rolfe, Parliamentary under-secretary of state, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said during the 29 July debate in the House of Lords.

Under the private copying exception, Britons will now be able to copy content they’ve bought or been given onto any device they own, as well as onto private cloud storage, Neville-Rolfe said, according to the Hansard, Parliament’s official report.

The exception, however, “will be narrow and carefully targeted,” barring users from giving or selling copies to anyone else, she said. The regulation differs sharply from personal copying exceptions in other EU countries, which often allow copies to be shared with friends and family but set levies on recording devices and media to compensate creators, she said. The UK government doesn’t think British consumers would tolerate levies, she said.

The parody exception is based on the concept of “fair dealing,” Neville-Rolfe said. In nearly all cases, that means that copying an entire work for parody purposes without changing it won’t be allowed, she said. Under current law, quotations and extracts are only permissible for “criticism or review,” raising the risk of copyright infringement by, for example, small theatres and record companies seeking to use quotes from newspaper reviews on their own promotional material, she said.

The change will remove that limitation and “permit all types of fair quotation, as long as there is acknowledgement” of its source, she said.

“Global Army of Parasites”

The private copy exception proved controversial in the Lords’ debate, and sparked harsh criticism from UK Music and others in the creative industries. Lord (Michael) Grade, former CEO of TV network ITV, accused the government of failing to understand the link between investment in creative content and the investor’s ability to control and police its copyright.

“What has been unleashed is a global army of parasites who live off the investment that creative people have made in the UK and throughout the world,” he said.

UK Music, whose members represent the recorded and live music industry, said it is “disappointed” that the government “ignored important warnings from Parliament and industry about technical flaws” in the legislation needed to introduce “a much needed exception to copyright for private copying.”

Despite concerns from Parliament about the “damaging implications of its policy,” the government is about to put in place a proposal that will harm creative talent, the group said in a press release.

The private copying exception won’t provide fair compensation for songwriters, performers and other rights holders, UK Music argued, stating, “In response we are considering our legal options.” The organisation wouldn’t elaborate on its statement.

“Benchmark for Europe”

DigitalEurope, which represents the high-tech sector, however, said the legislation “will bring UK law into line with both the reality of the digital world and consumer expectations.” Consumers and Europe’s tech industry have long urged EU member states to get rid of the “obsolete and unfair system of hardware levies associated with private copying exceptions imposed in some countries,” it said in a 30 July press release. The UK’s action “sets the benchmark for Europe in the future,” said Director General John Higgins.

Open Rights Group Executive Director Jim Killock applauded the government for making a “significant step towards making copyright law reflect the way we actually use and share content in the digital age.”

Most people aren’t aware that by copying their own legally purchased CDs to their iPod or making spoofs they’ve broken the law, he said. Contrary to what copyright lobbyists claim, updating the law will actually benefit rights owners by ensuring a stronger, more legitimate copyright regime, he added.

Dugie Standeford may be reached at

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