Copyright, the future and Brexit

iCopyright exceptions: the jigsawWe’ve now been to two recent events on the future of copyright in the UK following our exit from the European Union. Whatever your views on Brexit, and like many in HE we were firmly in the remain camp, we can’t deny it will happen. However in recent years much of UK copyright legislation has been amended following directives from the European Union. And there are important new changes going through the European Parliament currently on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. On 12 January 2017, the Commission’s proposal was debated by the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) And just today EIFL issued a statement on the need for copyright reform across Europe, supporting the statement issued by five key organisations (including LIBER, and the European Universities Association) on ‘Future-proofing European Research Excellence‘. This statement similarly calls for more change to copyright to give Europe a real opportunity to become a global leader in data-driven innovation and research.

So what does the future hold for copyright in the UK? In October last year I was interested to read this blog post from Professor Alison Harcourt of Exeter University. However, we thought we would share a few thoughts from recent events. Firstly in October last year we attended a meeting at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to discuss the copyright implications of Brexit on the higher education sector. Then earlier this week a conference organised by the Journal of Intellectual Property, Law and Practice (JIPLP). Both events were an opportunity to understand more about how important copyright and IP are particularly in the context of international trade but also the increasingly global education offered by the UK. In both meetings all agreed that following Brexit the UK would not have the same relationship with the Court of Justice of the EU, but no one was clear if decisions of this court might be taken into account by English judges. There were references here to important cases on issues such as whether hyperlinking is copyright infringement (see Svensson, BestWaterGS Media and a helpful table of the implications by Dr Eleonora Rosati here) or the provision of content on dedicated terminals in libraries (see TU Darmstadt v Eugen Ulmer KG). If you are interested in reading more and keeping up to date with copyright and intellectual property issues, the IP Kat blog is a good source of information and commentary.

However what is clear is that not only does Brexit mean Brexit (and of course we all know exactly what that means) it also means we are unlikely to get a new copyright act in the UK any time soon. This is despite the view of Sir Richard Arnold, British High Court of Justice judge, that we are much in need of one. On Monday he gave us eight reasons why the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended and revised) was long overdue a major overhaul, technology being his first reason and Brexit being the last. This last reason was a recent addition – for the original list of seven reasons see his Herchel Smith IP lecture from 2014. However he concluded by saying that copyright is unlikely to be a priority for parliament over the next few years.

So in these dark, rather depressing January days is there any light on the horizon? The IPO suggested Brexit might be an opportunity to rethink copyright and make it fit for the UK. The lobbying work of organisations such as EIFL and Communia are hoping to convince Brussels that reforming copyright to support education and research is vital. We would like to think that those within the research and education world might be able to play a significant role in shaping the future of copyright in the UK. But it remains to be seen….

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