Copyright Directive implemented in UK law
Legislation implementing the European Copyright Directive was laid before the UK Parliament on Friday. Among other things, it extends the UK’s copyright laws to deal with digital piracy, albeit ten months behind the EU's deadline.
The Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 will amend the country's main copyright law – the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988. The Regulations effecting the changes will come into force on 31st October.
The Copyright Directive, passed in 2001, was the EU's attempt to update copyright protection to the digital age. It sets out new rules on the protection of anti-copying technologies and digital rights management, controversially echoing some provisions of America's much-criticised Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
It is also the means by which the European Union and its Member States will implement two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) "Internet Treaties": the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty..
The Directive was due to be implemented in the UK by 22nd December last year but has been repeatedly delayed. The Copyright Directorate blamed the delay on the complexity of the changes.
The new law addresses digital piracy by making it an offence to "communicate to the public" copyright works, such as software, movies or music, if the person knew or had reason to believe that this would infringe copyright. Until now, Britain's copyright legislation has focused on illegal dealings in physical articles.
There is little in the new law that will worry those operating file-sharing services, says Struan Robertson, editor of OUT-LAW.COM. "The law affecting the provision of file-sharing services was ambiguous before and it remains ambiguous. But there is cause for concern among those using the services."
Under existing laws, it infringes copyright to convert a song from a CD into MP3 format and, in theory, the British music industry could follow the RIAA's lead and sue those who swap MP3 files using peer-to-peer services like KaZaA.
This has not happened to date. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has taken a more understanding approach than its US counterpart, taking into account the paucity of legitimate music download services to date.
But Britain's new regime, from 31st October, will introduce a new threat for P2P fans. The law will state:
"A person who infringes copyright in a work by communicating the work to the public –
A/ in the course of a business, or
B/ otherwise than in the course of a business to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright,
commits an offence if he knows or has reason to believe that, by doing so, he is infringing copyright in that work."
"If you make an MP3 available from your hard drive to other users of KaZaA, you are infringing copyright," says Robertson. "That has long been the case under UK copyright law, but the music industry in this country has to date resisted suing individuals for such activity."
"But it could be interpreted under these new Regulations that you are now committing a criminal offence. You may not be acting in the course of a business; but by making a music file available for download for any other users of your P2P network, you are communicating the work potentially to millions, i.e. to an extent that the music industry could say is prejudicing its rights."
The offence carries a penalty of a fine or imprisonment for up to two years, or both.
OUT-LAW.COM asked the Copyright Directorate about this potential to prosecute individuals for using file-sharing services. A spokesperson said it would be for the courts to interpret the point but that it did not intend for individuals' non-commercial activities to be criminalised.
Robertson commented: "There is nothing to suggest that prosecutors will want to use this law to cut the use of file-sharing services – it's much more likely that any action in future will be taken under civil laws. But if the law is not intended to be used against individuals' non-commercial activities on the internet, why does it exist?"
The new Regulations are available at:
More information is at:
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