UK Copyright Laws: Combating Piracy or Stifling Creativity
This week, the first person in Scotland to be convicted of illegally sharing music files online was sentenced to three years probation. Anne Muir admitted distributing £54,000 worth of copyrighted music files by making them available to others via a peer-to-peer file sharing application, although she did not use this for any personal financial gain. She was convicted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The scale of the problem of illegal downloading is contested. According to research by Harris Interactive, about 1.2bn music tracks were illegally downloaded in the UK last year. The BPI estimates that those would have cost £984m if bought via retail sources, but it is not known how many people who downloaded the tracks would have bought them instead .
One particularly controversial area is the Digital Economy Act, which Telecoms firms BT and Talk Talk are challenging again in the courts this week. Their original legal action, asking for a High Court Review of the Act claiming it broke European laws, failed in 2010. Of particular concern to the companies, are the clauses which oblige ISPs to co-operate with record labels and film studios that want to identify those who deal in pirated music and films online. They have claimed these clauses amount to a violation of European laws on privacy and commerce . Senior judges have also highlighted misgivings regarding prosecutions of illegal file sharing and others expressed alarm at the speed of the Act’s introduction .
The issue remains as to how to find an approach to reducing copyright infringement that doesn’t stifle creativity and pleases all camps. The Hargreaves Report, a review of UK Copyright Laws, published in May 2011 seems to have appeased many interest groups. The recommendations include, creating a ‘one-stop shop’ for digital rights clearance, lifting restrictions on parodying copyrighted material, allowing use of content where the intellectual property owner is unknown and scrapping laws that make it illegal to download a CD on to an MP3 player .