Copyright Reform

The most important copyright legislation in the UK is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, last updated in 2003 to implement the European Copyright Directive. Increasingly, UK copyright law is dictated by decisions made at the EU level. In December 2013, the EU opened a public consultation on modernising and reforming EU copyright law.

Copyright law is a balancing act. Like other forms of intellectual property (trademarks, designs, patents) it grants creators a temporary monopoly – time, in which to exploit their ideas and profit from them. However, the monopoly is temporary in order to ensure that the "progress of science and useful arts" (to quote the US Constitution) continues into the future. All new creations and inventions build upon past work, and accordingly innovation depends on the public right of access to culture. The advent of the Internet has fundamentally changed the environment in which copyright operates and the relevant laws are made. For these reasons, copyright has been a particularly contentious area over the last several decades as large, mutlinational rights holders seek to keep extending and tightening copyright laws while consumer and digital rights groups seek to reform them in the direction of greater flexibility.


Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, when the term of copyright was repeatedly extended in many countries, including the UK, only specialists participated in drafting the laws because they were the only stakeholders. The Internet has created many more stakeholders by turning consumers into creators and creators into small businesses that are not necessarily mediated by large intermediaries such as record companies and publishers. The interests of these new stakeholders have yet to be reflected in the law.

In the UK, both the 2006 Gowers Review and the 2011 Hargreaves Report (PDF) stressed the need for an evidence-based approach to copyright. Yet this has so far been sadly lacking: at a hearing on Hargreaves, civil servant Adrian Brazier, the head of the implementation team for the Digital Economy Act 2010, admitted that the government's impact assessment was not based on new or independent evidence or research, and that rightsholders did not allow detailed inspection of the methodology and workings of the evidence they offered.

Rights for the public are expressed in copyright law as exceptions to the rules. The government committed in 2012 to implementing the remaining exceptions recommended by Hargreaves. 

ORG's view

The Open Rights Group believes that the old approach to copyright is no longer appropriate, and campaigns for better copyright rules that facilitate more creative engagement with culture and knowledge and open up more consumer-friendly business models, and for enforcement of those rules by legitimate and proportionate means. ORG rejects the assumption made in much policy-making in this area that longer and tighter copyright is necessary for economic growth and also argues that aggressive enforcement of today's outdated and inflexible copyright laws undermine our privacy and freedom of expression and shut off the economic benefits of innovative uses of new technology. ORG believes that a more flexible approach will yield greater innovation and growth while supporting freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation. ORG strongly advocates a programme of research to put policy-making on a secure footing.

ORG campaigns for wide-ranging exceptions to facilitate private use, accessibility, and the interests of education and research. ORG is working, for example, to ensure that format-shifting and parody are included in the Statutory Instruments due to be laid before Parliament by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills and become law by 6 April 2014. ORG is particularly interested in securing an exception for parody, which presents no commercial competition to rightsholders but has great cultural value.

The latest

In 2019 the government conducted a review of copyright reforms introduced into UK law in 2014 including the right to parody. Their aim was to evaluate whether the reforms have reached their objectives and to consider whether the changes are still required. Read Open Rights Group's response to the government's call for evidence here.

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