Will we now see parliamentary footage used in parodies?

Previously, broadcasters had been banned from using the footage for purposes other than reporting news. Thus satirical uses were contractually prevented.

With this question in mind we asked the Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) how it plans to deal with the new copyright exception for parody in relation to the potential reuse of parliamentary broadcasts.

The PRU responded that they don’t see a need to change the texts of the licences to use recordings Parliamentary proceedings because of the new the parody exception, but they said the licences will operate with regard to the new section of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 relating to parodies.

The PRU also referenced the right of the Parliament to deal with any question of contempt should its proceedings be abused. They referred us to remarks made by the Minister for Universities and Science.

The new section 30A CDPA will deal with “caricature, parody or pastiche”. It will provide:

(1) Fair dealing with a work for the purposes of caricature, parody or pastiche does not infringe copyright in the work.

(2) To the extent that a term of a contract purports to prevent or restrict the doing of any act which, by virtue of this section, would not infringe copyright, that term is unenforceable.”

So the response says that licences to use parliamentary footage will be subject to the parody exception, as we would expect, because no contractual override of the exception is allowed. Given that parody works through a copyright exception, technically it will be completely outside any existing or future licence. But we think that it would be better for Parliament to make this clear.

The use for parody of general parliamentary proceedings raises similar questions. The Open Parliament Licence – used for much of the non-audiovisual material made available by Parliament – currently stops anyone from present(ing) the information in a way that discredits the reputation or standing of either House of Parliament or their members or their officials. 

PRU’s reference to the remarks of the Minister for Universities and Science (to the Tenth Delegated Legislation Committee on 9 July 2014) appears to relate to the following exchanges:

Mr Frank Doran (Aberdeen North) (Lab):  I confess, I had not seen this particular provision before coming to this room today. Is the Minister aware that the contract that the House authorities have with the various broadcasting organisations for broadcasting the proceedings of the House bar any use apart from news programmes and specific reporting on the Parliament channel that [Column number: 6] we are all familiar with? I think that that provision in the contract was made for very good reasons, because we are the perfect target for pastiche. Has the Minister taken that into account in his consideration of how the measure will impact, and does he think he will be popular with his colleagues if he has? 

Mr Willetts:  Perhaps I can touch on that in a moment. We have special arrangements in the House, but of course, they cut both ways: on the one hand, we have special arrangements to protect parliamentary proceedings from parody; on the other hand, there are special arrangements to protect our ability to quote within the House of Commons. We can freely quote without having to secure agreement from the people who originally made the remarks or created the works that we are quoting from. In some ways, we are trying to extend to other institutions across the UK the rights that we have given ourselves in this House. 

[Column number: 16]

Mr Willetts:  On parody, I confirm what I said in answer to an earlier intervention: special parliamentary arrangements protect us from parody—thank heavens. There are restrictions on using parliamentary procedures in a parody. These are deep waters and I shall not stray further into them, but those arrangements exist. 

It is quite disappointing that MPs have to reassure themselves that they will be above the law they are about to pass. But we are not so sure Mr Willetts is right.

The “special arrangements” discussed could refer to the Parliamentary Recording Unit’s licence agreements. But it seems the terms of these will not apply to parodyists owing to the parody exception.

The PRU’s response also refers to the possibility of being in ‘contempt’ of Parliament if its proceedings are abused. It is not completely clear to us what this means in the context of parody. 

According to parliament.uk, contempt “refers to disobedience to, or defiance of, an order of the House, or some other insult to the House or its dignity or a breach of parliamentary privilege. It can relate to any attempt to interfere with proceedings or to obstruct or threaten Members in the performance of their parliamentary duties. In the House of Commons contempts are referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges but any decision must be agreed by the House…” 

We cannot find an explanation in the debate of the relevance of parliamentary contempt. We would like a clearer explanation of the circumstances (if any) in which it would be used against parodyists.

In short, having read the response of the Parliamentary Recording Unit, it remains unclear to us whether parliamentary footage may now be used in parodies.

In any case, changes to the law will have a limited impact if Parliament continues imposing technological restrictions that stop anyone from recording their taxpayer-funded broadcasts and archived footage.