The UK government has introduced a series of changes to copyright law across various media, including books. “These changes will affect how you can use content like books, music, films and photographs,” says the introductory text at the UK Intellectual Property Office. “They will also introduce greater freedoms in copyright law to allow third parties to use copyright works for a variety of economically and/or socially valuable purposes without the need to seek permission from copyright owners.” These remove the UK’s anomalous legal restrictions on, for instance, ripping CDs and DVDs for backup and private home use, and open up other areas as well – though perhaps not as far as they could.

The new legislation allows for copying and backing up your ebooks, but only within the narrowest possible definition. “A narrow private copying exception, allowing reproduction of a copy of a work (eg. a CD or ebook) that is lawfully owned (bought or gifted) by an individual onto any medium or device owned or controlled by that individual (eg. a tablet device or MP3 player), for their private and non-commercial use,” will now be legal in the UK. However, “private copying within a family or domestic circle” will not.

There’s some criticism elsewhere online of the new measures as leaving ambiguity over the issue of stripping out DRM from ebooks and format shifting. However, the name-calling that basically asserts that the measures are how they are because “the bureaucrats writing the legislation aren’t experts in copyright law” seems to me unjustified – and not just to me. Commentary by Benjamin White, Head of Intellectual Property at the British Library, covered in more detail elsewhere, makes no such claim – and you’d expect him to highlight the issue if anyone would.

UK copyright legislation hitherto has had a very narrow definition of quotation and use of extracts, allowed without the copyright owner’s permission ” if such use is ‘fair’ and done for the purpose of criticism, review or reporting current events.” The new rules aim to widen this to accommodate “fair dealing with any extract or quotation, to the extent justified by its purpose, as long as sources are identified.” Restrictive entitlements on copying for educational purposes are to be widened to “expand the types of copyright works covered by the education exceptions and enable copies to be communicated to students via interactive display,” as well as increasing “the amount of a copyright work that can be copied under the education exceptions” and facilitating distance learning.

Comedy, parody and pastiche also gets a green light, clearing the way for more mash-ups and collage works. “Comedy is economically important in the UK and an important part of our culture and public discourse,” the impact assessment summary runs. The recommendation aims to: “Introduce a fair dealing exception for parody, caricature and pastiche.”

The new rules also cover copying in order to research a work, via text search or data mining. “Iif researchers have the right to access a copyright work to read it (for example, through paying for a subscription to a journal or through material published under a Creative Commons licence), they will be allowed to make a copy of the work for text and data mining purposes, without asking for additional permission. The exception applies to all types of copyright works but only when research is for non-commercial purposes.”

The new regulations will come into effect in June 2014.


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