21st Century Copyright: Report calls for wide-ranging reform

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18 May 2011

An independent review of the intellectual property (IP) system has recommended significant reform of UK IP to ensure that the UK has an IP framework best suited to supporting innovation and promoting economic growth in the digital age.

The review was carried out by Professor Ian Hargreaves, with the aim of developing proposals for making the UK's IP framework more supportive of growth and innovation. The Report, entitled "Digital Opportunity", criticises the current system, emphasising that it is "falling behind what is needed, especially in the area of copyright", and makes ten proposals "designed to enhance the economic potential of the UK's creative industries".

Recommendations include the establishment of a Digital Copyright Exchange (in essence an online marketplace for copyright licences), legislation to allow licensing of the huge number of "orphan works" which currently cannot be exploited because the copyright holder cannot be traced, and the introduction of new copyright exceptions for activities which do not prejudice the central objective of incentivising creators.

The proposed exceptions include a new right to parody, a relaxation of the law relating to format shifting for private individuals, and exceptions for library archiving and non-commercial research. Whilst these fall short of introducing a "fair use" provision equivalent to that adopted in the US, Professor Hargreaves' suggestions would make the UK copyright system more compatible with the reality of modern digital storage formats and consumer habits. For example, format shifting, (eg from CD to mp3) is still technically an infringement of copyright, even though it is widespread amongst consumers.  

In addition, the Report recommends that, at EU level, the UK should promote an exception to support text and data analytics and should give a lead to develop a further copyright exception designed to provide adaptability to new technologies.

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