September 25, 2006 7:35 AM PDT

British Library calls for digital copyright action

The British Library has called for a "serious updating" of current copyright law to "unambiguously" include digital content and take technological advances into account.

In a manifesto released on Monday at the Labor Party Conference in Manchester, the United Kingdom's national library warned that the country's traditional copyright law needs to be extended to fully recognize digital content.

Unless there is a serious updating of copyright law to recognize the changing technological environment, the law becomes an ass.
--Lynne Brindley, CEO, British Library

"Unless there is a serious updating of copyright law to recognize the changing technological environment, the law becomes an ass," Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, told ZDNet UK.

Digital rights management (DRM) technologies and licensing agreements currently can impose restrictions on copying content that go beyond the requirements of copyright law. This needs legal clarification, according to the British Library.

"DRM is a technical device, but it's being used in an all-embracing sense. It can't be circumvented for disabled access or preservation, and the technology doesn't expire (as traditional copyright does). In effect, it's overriding exceptions to copyright law," Brindley said.

The British Library hopes to protect statutory exceptions and fair dealing, which enable libraries to make and preserve copies of content, and make them available for research purposes and for disabled people.

"This is a global, international issue," Brindley said. "We have to have the same balance as in traditional print. We are seeking a triage ensuring creators are rewarded but also that the public good is served."

The Open Rights Group, a digital civil-rights organization, said it "whole-heartedly supported" the British Library's call for a clarification of copyright law.

"One of the key problems is that the limitations and exceptions to copyright law are being ignored by business, which is imposing restrictive licenses on digital content," Suw Charman, executive director of the Open Rights Group, told ZDNet UK.

Charman said DRM restrictions could be particularly damaging for academic research.

"If a library carried a printed journal, academics and students could photocopy it. Digital journals have restrictions on access, which is a dangerous road to go down," Charman said. "If we allow companies to create their own licenses, we undermine copyright law. If we say contract law is more important than copyright law, it allows publishers to write whatever license they like, which is what is happening now."

The British Library said it hopes to play a leading role in moderating the debate between those who wish to make copyright law more restrictive and those who wish to radically reform it.

The British Library also called for the question of "orphan works"--content whose rights holder is hard to find--to be addressed.

"There's an enormous amount of material locked up because we can't trace the copyright holders," Brindley said.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
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14 comments

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Copying journals
The statement that library patrons are able to photocopy journals
does not mention that the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) in the
UK collects a license fee from libraries to permit that activity. In
the absence of some form of license or compensation for digital
reproduction the two issues are not identical.
Posted by Don307blue (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Symptom of the problem
If the publishers weren't trying to rewrite the rules they would have already rolled out a compensation system for digital copies that mirrored the print version. Their not having done so is a symptom of the problem.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
Link Flag
Someone Gets It!
The Brit's get it. Just because a digital system can be implemented that restricts fair use rights below what the law allows doesn't mean that it should be legal to do so! It makes just as much sense as having a chip in a spark plug that says after X warrantied miles of service for that plug, that plug refuses to fire. Sure it's technically possible, but it doesn't mean it should be legal!

--mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get your facts straight
"Fair use" is part of US copyright law. In the commonwealth
countries we have an exception called "Fair Dealing", the
articulation of which varies from country to country.

In all cases, the exception has nothing to do with the perceived
fairness or unfairness of the action. With varying degrees of
precision, each act tries to define under what circumstances
copying without permission may take place.

Unfortunately, many people have misunderstood this and
misapplied this exception to justify their actions. In no case do
either Fair Use or Fair Dealing permit the copying of copyrighted
materials for the purpose of personal enjoyment or
entertainment - no matter how fair somebody might think it is.
Posted by Don307blue (4 comments )
Link Flag
Berne convention
One real peoblem in copyright law is the Berne convention that requires that any kind of work automatically get maximum legal protection.

There is no sense in requiring that this post get the same kind og legal peotection that a multi million Pixar production gets. These are two extremes and in between them there are many intermediate scenarios, most of which reqire copyright protection slightly higher than this post but not getting close to the Pixar investment of millions in one film.

Legislators in most countries cannot really change this situation because they are bound by international agreements like the Berne convention. This should change to allow a variety of levels of protection, providing minimal protection for all works, more protection by request, and maximal protection for those that need to protect their financial investment for a fee. Those who spend millions to can be expected to invest a bit in protecting their investment.

The idea that registration should not be required for legal protection of a creation by copyright law was right for the end of the nineteenth century. However, in the twenty first century registering a work doesn't mean a few days on horseback to the capital city were several days are then spent looking for the right clerk. Today it can be done from anywhere through the internet, and I'm sure WIPO is capable of creaing such a system that would work globally and a new legal framework of international agreements to go with it.

Anyway, a new legal framework that doesn't put a Pixar full length film on the same level as a blog post would work better for both Pixar and the internet public, and would solve the problem of orphaned works.
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
Reply Link Flag
About Time...
It's about time they started to push back on DRM a little bit. DRM is not there to ensure copyrights are followed but to unilaterally and arbitrarily restrict use of content without exception. Copyright owners would love to have a way to secure their copyright ownership indefinitely.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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