ArtsWatch: UK Copyright Version 2.0

British government announces shift to less restrictive IP laws
August 08, 2011 -- 10:32 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On Aug. 3 Britain's Intellectual Property Office revealed wide-ranging plans for UK copyright law reform that will support high-tech business opportunities and a more innovative approach to private consumer copying, while improving antipiracy enforcement against criminal infringement. The flurry of reports includes three publications by the IP Office — "Prevention And Cure: The UK IP Crime Strategy 2011," "The UK's International Strategy For Intellectual Property" and "The Government Response To The Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property And Growth" — as well as the release of several documents on implementation of the Digital Economy Act by the Department For Culture, Media and Sport, notably Ofcom's May report "'Site Blocking' To Reduce Online Copyright Infringement." The Hargreaves review was released in May and proposes many new ways to relax Britain's IP laws. Somewhat surprisingly, the UK government has accepted all of its recommendations hoping to promote beneficial economic growth without harming the creative sector. Notable highlights include a more permissive approach to private consumer copying and format shifting, ambitious long-term plans to develop an efficient Digital Copyright Exchange for licensing and the establishment of procedures to license orphan works. Ofcom's contributions focus on enforcement, including imposition of a fee for Internet subscribers to appeal notices of online infringement, and rejection of the Digital Economy Act's approach to blocking infringing websites as being ineffective. Although the site-blocking component of this legislation has been sidelined for now, a July 28 court decision to order ISP-blocking of the infringing site Newzbin2 offers content owners some consolation that this approach has a future. Initial reactions from trade group UK Music and the UK Musicians' Union outlined reservations over the government's announcement alongside suggestions for improvements. The idealism of the UK government's modernizing zeal is fine in itself — timely in terms of copyright and needed in terms of economic growth — however, the guaranteed bottom line is that high-tech businesses will take advantage of looser copyright laws almost regardless of whether their innovations fairly compensate the creative community of artists and other content owners.

Reflecting on the impressive sales for Taylor Swift's Speak Now in November 2010, her label Big Machine Records and IFPI revealed details of their intense antipiracy activity conducted in parallel with more conventional marketing for the album. Digital Music News reported, "Big Machine not only spent considerable effort stamping out pre-release leaks, they also maintained night-and-day diligence on every pirated copy after the release date. Most were taken down immediately, a response that requires huge resource allocations." Swift's preceding album, 2008's Fearless, garnered her worldwide recognition and four GRAMMY Awards, helping to ensure that the means were in place to promptly enforce thousands and thousands of Internet takedown notices within a brief period for her follow-up album. Artists with smaller followings, wondering whether Internet piracy is hurting their sales, are at a significant disadvantage.

A coalition of leading music industry organizations reiterated their concerns over a future .music generic top-level domain in a submission responding to a request for comments from the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Similar to the coalition's January letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the latest response was written by RIAA Deputy General Counsel Victoria Sheckler and its signatories include ASCAP, BMI, CISAC, IFPI, NMPA, and The Recording Academy. The letter reads, "We are concerned about malicious conduct, such as wide-scale copyright infringement, over any music themed gTLD...and would like to see best practices developed to ensure this type of malicious behavior does not occur."

The Copyright Royalty Board granted SoundExchange's April 2010 petition to use proxy data, given the absence of usable records, in order to distribute unallocated digital royalties from 2004–2009, as published in the Federal Register on Aug. 1. The CRB noted that SoundExchange's comment in reply to its rulemaking procedure was the only submission received. During the rulemaking, several additional usage reports were submitted, reducing the unallocated royalties from $28 million to $19.4 million — approximately 3 percent of the total royalties collected during the time period.

On Aug. 1 a U.S. District Court granted MPAA member studios a preliminary injunction against Zediva, ordering the video rental service to be shut down until the outcome of a full trial based on a preliminary finding that it violated copyright law and would do irreparable harm to the studios' legitimate online video services. In April the MPAA described Zediva's place-shifting business model as a "gimmick" — the service hosted physical DVD players that streamed rented DVDs to subscribers' computers.


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