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November 20, 2013 | Jim Killock

Dear government, copyright reform – is it happening?

The Hargreaves Review was presented to government in 2011, with recommendations to modernise copyright: two years later, we are still waiting for the changes.


copyright - just when you thought it was safe to parodyThe recommendations it put forward, for instance for user rights to format shifting (ie, copy CDs to your iPod legally), archives, education and parody are modest but necessary. After two years and another consultation, the new 'exceptions' to copyright were proposed this summer. The government then ran a 'technical review' of the proposals.

We're now waiting for the final versions. The government appears to still be debating how and whether to proceed.

We've been here before – almost exactly four years ago. The last Labour government, after years of debate following the Gowers Review, bottled it. The exceptions were never put in place.

Parody seems to be a particular bugbear. Content lobby groups have tried to create doubt and fear surrounding a right to parody – yet it is obvious that nobody should be able to use copyright to suppress others from making a joke at their expense. Or indeed, in tribute.

We set up a website to campaign for a parody exception in 2011. We asked people to create parodies and submit evidence to the Intellectual Property Office.

We are pretty sure that the same pressure is going on now. Minister, these groups will say, there's no need to legislate for parody. There's lots of parodies – and we will give people a licence, at least most of the time, if people ask. And parody depends on a sense of the illicit, so it helps parody that it’s not really legal!

These are beguiling but bad arguments. People dislike legal risks, so avoid them. We also know plenty of people get caught up in disputes, even resulting in Youtube takedowns, when parodies are accused of copyright infringement. Such actions are an infringement of free expression, yet do no real harm to copyright owners. Many countries, including copyright hardliners like France and the US, have legal protection for parodies.

If you want to see the Minister get on with putting exceptions including parody into law, then please write to the IPO at copyrightconsultation@ipo.gov.uk and ask Lord Younger to hasten along with copyright reform!

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