UK has worst copyright laws

22 April 2009

http://img16.imageshack.us/img16/1218/queencopyright5509890.jpgWe recently mentioned how the founders of Pirate Bay were found guilty in a country where copyright laws are considered lax. But according to Consumer Focus and the Open Rights Group, the UK has plenty more work to do, after being voted as the country with the worst copyright laws of 16 nations surveyed, including emerging countries such as Thailand.

The groups focused on the lack of a "fair use" exception, and was given an 'F' score for lack of observation in consumer interest in its national copyright law and enforcement practices. 'F' is assigned if the country abjectly fails to observe those interests," said the report.

"UK copyright law is the oldest but also the most out of date. It’s time our copyright law caught up with the real world," said Ed Mayo, CEO of Consumer Focus. "The current system puts unrealistic limits on our listening and viewing habits and is rapidly losing credibility among consumers. A broad ‘fair use’ exception would bring us in line with consumer expectations, technology and the rest of the world."

The failure of copyright law to evolve along with technologies means that there is a lack of any clause to protect consumers from purchasing downloads from iTunes followed by "ripping" a CD containing those tunes. The same applies for DVDs, video programmes from TV and even video clips from social networking sites.

"There are no fair use exceptions in UK law, only some limited permitted acts. There is no provision that may be termed “private copying” exception and UK copyright law does not distinguish between private or corporate copyright infringement. However private infringement is generally treated as a civil offense, where commercial infringement may be treated as civil or criminal offense," said the report.

Another aspect of UK law that the groups found to be disturbing is the copyright on government documents, which are presumably paid for by ratepayers. In other countries, such as the US, government documents are in the public domain.

While nobody seriously believes that CD rippers are about to be prosecuted, to some, the larger question is whether such arcane laws could be resuscitated for selective prosecution. There is danger in how outdated or vague laws are implemented before cases go to trial, such as police using anti-terror laws to intimidate people into deleting pictures from their cameras or otherwise telling people what they "are" and "are not" allowed to photograph.

Could those wielding antiquated copyright laws similarly use them to cut down protected use such as parodies or YouTube "mash-ups", like how WMG (Warner's Music Group) recently removed millions of videos just because music was used as background audio?

While most people might say "no," the technical possibility is still there. How would that shape the future of copyright?

[Ars Technica

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