Copyright refreshment

We need a new UK Copyright Act.  This was the substance of a submission by the UK IP judges to the Hargreaves Review last year.  After considering the UK Government’s Consultation on Copyright, IP Draughts agrees with this view.

25 years ago, Parliament debated a Bill that would become the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.  The preamble to the Bill stated:

The Bill repeals the Copyright Act 1956 and… replaces it with a fresh statement of the law … taking into account the technological changes of the last 30 years.

Those technological changes included the personal computer, cable television, VHS cassettes and the Sony Walkman.  The 1988 Act fundamentally restructured copyright law to take account of these changes, resulting in an Act that looked very different to its predecessor, the Copyright Act 1956.

In the last 25 years, technological changes have arguably been much greater than in the previous 30 years, and have included the growth of the internet (and its content), email, and multiple recording formats. There have been piecemeal revisions to the 1988 Act during that time, many of them deriving from EU legislation.  IP Draughts believes that it is time to introduce a new set of laws that build on the previous legislation, but with a more coherent structure, and taking account of the massive changes in technology since the 1988 Act was passed.

Many points of detail in copyright law need to be updated, as the Consultation on Copyright identifies (it asks over 100 questions of readers).  This could be done by making a large number of minor revisions to existing legislation.  However, it would be much better to start with a blank sheet of paper, as happened in 1987.

The pressure on Parliamentary time is so great that a technical subject like IP law rises to the top of the queue only rarely.  In practice, IP laws only get a major revision once in a generation (or two).  The last Patents Act was in 1977, its predecessor was in 1949.  The last Trade Marks Act was in 1994, its predecessor was in 1938.  In view of the many changes in technology in recent years, we should view 25 years as a long enough wait for a new copyright law, not much less than the 30 years that was allowed last time around.

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