Wednesday, December 06, 2006

UK govt proposes radical copyright shift

Prime-minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown is spinning his new intellectual property proposals as being tough on enforcement. In reality he is proposing a radical shift in European copyright law in favour of consumers and creativity, to allow a generic "fair use" exception (rather than the limited set of "fair dealing" exceptions we have under the Copyright Directive Article 5.)

The Treasury obviously took notice of the pointed reminder in Google's submission to the Gowers review that their indexing and caching of websites, legal in the US, would be highly risky in the UK. I have heard the Publishers' Association copyright counsel frothing on this subject in the past, claiming that Google should have to ask the permission of every single website operator on the Internet before indexing their sites. Search engines would simply not exist if that was required.

Gordon Brown may be proposing copyright reform in the expectation that there is not a hope in hell of the EU making such a radical change to its laws. If the Hugenholtz review of the copyright acquis made similar proposals, we might see just how "evidence-based" European law really is. (The Commission's dismissal of evidence that the Database Directive actively damages the database sector in the EU is not a good precedent.)

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