Copyright and online rights

Term extension

The year opened with a very hard fight to push copyright term extension for sound recordings off the agenda. We had built a strong alliance of pan-European academics, consumer groups and copyright users. We examined the evidence and showed that it would favour industry and dead artists’ estates. We launched a robust campaign and lobbied the EU parliament as hard as we could manage. Around 20,000 EU citizens signed our petition and 35,000 viewed our online video outlining the case against extension.

This wasn’t enough to convince Parliament that the record labels were wrong, although in our view the attention given was scant; copyright has not been traditionally seen as anything more than a technical, industry issue, so politicians are not generally looking at it closely.

In the event, Parliament “compromised” with a 20 year term extension, which was however blocked in the EU Council. This is where it remains, as Sweden wisely did not wish to deal with the issue. With the start of the Spanish presidency next year, we expect the UK government and others to push for acceptance of term extension. We are lobbying the UK government to try to get them to change their position in the light of their recent statements about more flexible copyright.

P2P and ‘disconnection’

Proposals for the disconnection of users on accusation of copyright infringement have been repeatedly pushed at many levels of government. They can be found in drafts of the secretive ACTA Treaty, they have been pushed at EU level, and in member states, most famously France.

At every turn, they meet popular resistance. The reasons are not hard to discern. The evidence is likely to be tenuous, as it cannot identify individuals, only IP addresses. Punishments will be collective, as whole households would be disconnected. And the punishment itself is completely disproportionate.

Cutting people off the internet has no place in the range of punishments available, and is designed to be a statement that copyright and property rights are of higher regard than individual rights of freedom of expression and association.

They are not. Financial damage should be dealt with primarily as a financial manner, in proportion to the actual damage caused.

In Britain, the Digital Britain report looked likely to push for reserve measures up to bandwidth throttling, but not disconnection itself. Ofcom was likely to oversee any process, and measure the impact not only of letter writing, but of rights holders attempts to bring new services online.

The mess we have been presented with includes disconnection with limited appeals, and a wide ranging power to change copyright law to impose new obligations to enforce copyright without Parliamentary scrutiny.

These are unacceptable proposals. We will fight them every inch of the way. Please join our efforts by visiting your MP and talking to them face to face to explain exactly how disasterous and disproportionate these proposals are.

Google Books and orphan works

The US Google Books settlement caused considerable controversy in the EU as well as the States, partly because EU rights holders felt their rights were being infringed, and partly because the EU clearly needed to provide some sort of solution that would allow out of print and ‘orphan’ works, works where rights holders can no longer found, to be made available on the internet.

ORG Law, our team of volunteer legal experts, led the creation of a submission to the Commission. With particular help from Daithí Mac Síthigh, we made the point that legislative solutions were better than courtroom agreements when copyright law needs changing, and that a wide solution to online licensing and scanning rights is needed. We also observed that without EU action, services like Google Books would not be able to emerge, a competitive market may not be established, and EU literature might be more accessible in the USA that Europe.

We were the only citizen or ‘consumer’ group to be represented at the hearing.

The hearing was clearly aimed at opening the door for a change in law to allow orphan works to be made available. Commisioner Vivian Reding has made it plain that problems with orphan works is a problem for archives and libraries as well as commercial services. The debate now is between the types of solution, and whether a narrow copyright exception can be agreed to create consistent rules across Europe, or whether licensing agreements are expected to solve all ‘orphan works’ problems. ORG contributed to this second EU debate as well.


We scored another success this year when ORG and over 100 concerned individuals submitted evidence to Ofcom’s consultation about the BBC’s proposals to encrypt and license television scheduling information for high definition broadcasts.

These proposals are a clear attempt to restrict the lawful use of BBC content through imposing conditions on equipment manufacturers.

Ofcom rejected the BBC’s initial application, and is revisiting the issue. We haven’t won yet, but we’ve won the first fight.