Please write to your MP now
THE NUJ and Creators' Rights Alliance are renewing their plea for members to write to their MPs to stress the importance of decent copyright laws to the economy - particularly the small part of the economy of their constituency that you represent. See the outline letter (MS Word document) and please send a copy of your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you can make time, personalising your message and printing it to post to your MP is certainly more effective than emailing them, or sending the letter unaltered. Writing to MPs about specific pending legislation does have an effect - much more so than writing about open-ended policy matters.
The background is that the UK government is having another go at changing copyright law, through the aptly-named ERR ("Enterprise and Regulatory Reform") Bill. In brief, the government wants:
- The power to change "exceptions" to copyright - uses of your work which don't need your permission - without a full debate in Parliament (Clause 57);
- To set up a mechanism for "extended collective licensing" so that, for example, work of yours that was included in a BBC programme, or appears in a book in the British Library, can be made available without asking you, but with payment to you through a collecting society; and
- To set up a mechanism for licensing "orphan works" - those works whose author or performer cannot be located.
See here for details.
The NUJ is actively lobbying to minimise the damage that these proposals could, if carelessly implemented, cause you. As Chair of NUJ Copyright Commitee and of the Creators' Rights Alliance I met Business Secretary Vince Cable on 18 September, alongside publishing and collecting-society interests, on Clause 57. The civil servants of the Intellectual Property (IPO) state, after repeated prodding, that the purpose of the Clause is to allow them to change the exceptions while maintaining the levels of criminal penalties for breaches of copyright. They can already make all the changes that are allowed in European Union law, without any Parliamentary debate, under the European Communities Act 1972 - but, they are advised, this requires reducing the the penalties to the minimum level set out by the EU.
It was Vince Cable who, as a backbench MP, introduced a Bill to increase the maximum prison sentence for infringing copyright to ten years. We know of only one criminal prosecution for abuse of a journalstic work, which resulted in a local councillor being fined.
It appeared that he gave a sympathetic hearing to the collective message that this Clause of the Bill should be changed to do only what it is supposed to do, not to give Ministers (in practice the IPO) stupidly wide powers.
And I am a member of an IPO-sponsored Working Group on the details of extended-collective and orphan-works licensing, with the aim of minimising harm.
We expect the ERR Bill to be debated in House of Lords Committee later in the Autumn, and are talking with several members of the House about amendments to deal with essential principles, such as giving journalists and other creators a proper, enforceable right to be identified in the manner of their choosing.
There is a further confusion with the news that the government plans to introduce an exception to copyright for non-profit uses by libraries and public service broadcasters - following an EU Directive passed on 4 October - as well as a route for users to apply for licences for other uses. More when, or if, more becomes clearer.