November 22, 2013

Letter to Lord Younger on copyright reform and parody

Since the Hargreaves Review of intellectual property in 2011, the Government has consulted on and then promised a number of reforms to copyright. This includes new 'exceptions', including for parody and private copyright. We're still waiting for these to be put into the law so we wrote to the Minister, Lord Younger, urging him to get on with the changes.

Dear Lord Younger,

I am writing to you regarding copyright reform, in particular the proposal for a new exception to copyright for parody, caricature and pastiche. After extensive consultation since Professor Hargreaves published his review of IP and growth in 2011, the time has come for the Government to put the proposed copyright reforms into law.

Open Rights Group believes that technology can help more people play a part in cultural life and the cultural economy, increasing the creation of and access to information, culture and knowledge.

This requires copyright law that reflects the new opportunities for creative or economically useful activity afforded by new technology. The reforms currently being implemented by your department would help this by enabling people to do more with copyrighted works without undermining the interests of rights holders.

Technology has made it easier for people to make creative re-workings of music, film or text. This kind of creativity is woven into the experience of cultural life online. A search of YouTube for Beyonce parodies reveals hundreds of thousands of hits, with similar numbers for Adele parodies or any other popular artist. Most of these are not professionally produced but represent the endeavour of citizens responding to the cultural conversations happening around them.

By making parodies people learn new and marketable creative skills, better engage their students, express political or social commentary or simply amuse their friends. [1] There is little evidence that parodies harm the creators of the original works. As recognised in research published by the IPO, many other countries permit parodic use of copyrighted work - including the USA, France, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands. [2]

Currently UK law provides insufficient protection for works of parody, caricature and pastiche. The UK should not consider this sort of activity to be on the wrong side of the law. We should be promoting it.

Professor Hargreaves was not the first to recommend such reforms. For example, the Gowers Review in 2006 came to strikingly similar conclusions, recommending a parody exception be implemented by 2008. Yet his proposals for exceptions came to nothing.

In their 2011 report on the Hargreaves Review the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee supported the introduction of a parody exception, and concluded that the Government “should press ahead with measures to implement new soon as possible. We recommend that the Department act swiftly to bring in legislation to that effect,” finding the proposed reforms to be “necessary and urgent.”

Further, the Regulatory Policy Committee this year gave a green light to the proposed text of copyright exceptions it has reviewed, including parody. [3]

These are sensible, modest reforms that will nonetheless do much to improve how well copyright functions - and is seen to function - in the digital age.

The time has come to put into law proposals that have been long promised and extensively considered. Otherwise another two and a half years of serious and high quality policy work will have been wasted, and we shall have to wait until the next independent copyright review once again recommends exactly the same reforms. We encourage you to press on with the proposed exceptions as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Killock

Executive Director

Open Rights Group


[1] For more, see our submission to the IPO Copyright Consultation


[3] See for example