3 December 2020CopyrightRory O'Neill

UK must avoid US-style copyright laws, Lords told

The UK government must ensure that the country does not import US-style safe harbour of fair use provisions into its copyright laws, a  House of Lords committee has heard.

Such a move would create “significant uncertainty” for rights holders and prevent new investment in content, said Dan Guthrie, director general of the  Alliance for Intellectual Property.

Guthrie made the comments at a hearing held by the Lords International Agreements Sub-Committee yesterday, December 2.

Appearing at the online hearing, representatives from the arts, visual arts and music industries stressed the importance of protecting the UK’s copyright regime in free trade negotiations.

The US fair use system “favours those with deep pockets and resources, and the confidence to litigate,” said Gilane Tawadros, chief executive of the  Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS).

US fair use laws allow parties to use copyright-protected material without seeking the permission of the rights owner, or having to pay royalties, in certain circumstances. Exactly what is and isn’t fair use is often the subject of litigation and largely governed by case law.

“It almost functions as to overturn the presumption that one should seek a copyright licence,” said Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the  British Phonographic Institute, an industry body representing record labels.

John McVay, chief executive of the  Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, called the system a “rogue’s charter” that makes defending copyright a “cost of business”.

The hearing examined the prospect of the UK using post-Brexit free trade negotiations to secure stronger copyright protections in other markets, as well as the risk that it could water down existing domestic provisions as part of any such agreements.

Tech companies have argued for the UK to adopt US-style copyright provisions. In July, the Internet Association, which includes Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft, argued that an “overbroad regime of strong copyright protection and enforcement—without limitations

and exceptions like the ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material—would stifle the internet economy.”But Taylor told the Lords sub-committee that the US system effectively acted as a “subsidy” from creators to the tech industry.Tawadros also told the committee that DACS was strongly opposed to the mooted possibility of the UK joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The CPTTP replaced the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which collapsed after Donald Trump withdrew the US from negotiations.

The new deal is made up of all the other remaining signatories, including Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and Japan.

Tawadros said the IP chapter in the CCTTP contained “no right to remuneration” for artists, and described the prospect of the UK joining the agreement as a “backwards step”.

“It doesn’t compare favourably with the UK’s strong and supportive copyright regime,” she said.

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More on this story

7 July 2020   Big tech firms including Facebook, Google, and Amazon want US-style safe harbour protections from copyright liability enshrined in any US-UK free trade agreement.
22 May 2020   The US Copyright Office has concluded that the safe harbour provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is “out of sync” with Congress’ intent.