Response to ‘Taking Forward the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property’

Christine Geraghty, MeCCSA Chair
7 April 2008

In responding to this consultation by the UK Intellectual Property Office, MeCCSA, the Higher Education Subject Association representing academics and researchers in the broad discipline of Communications, Cultural and Media Studies, would like to support the recommendations made by the British Library in their submission to the UKIPO. These proposals represent
the interests of the public at large, as well as those of researchers, authors and teachers within the university sector, and their detailed work accords with our own understanding of the issues.

The general principle of applying this legislation across media, rather than separating each medium by detailed provisions, is just, efficient and logical. That totally different legislation and principles should apply to the same published piece, depending on the medium of publication, is obviously not supportable. That the legislation and regulation should be technology-neutral is a crucial provision for any future legislation; such legislation should clarify, simplify and make accessible the range of current provision. This is a chance to make sense of a long line of practices which have developed historically but not always logically. The law as it now stands is blind to a number of key areas, as it is too detailed and depends on past technologies and concepts of publication. The developments of the last two decades, and especially the existing and developing e-storage, e-journals and the internet have to be accounted for, not by adding new, detailed clauses, but by making the legislation not technology-specific. This becomes clear, for example, when one considers the important area of distance learning, and the provision suggested by the British Library will greatly assist work, through the proposed ‘extension of exceptions’ to such work.

We also feel that the BL approach has struck the right balance between affording and making widely accessible all information to the public and to academics, as well as protecting the rights of authors and publishers. The realities of providing access are well thought-out and detailed, and we hope that such details will be taken into account when legislation is worked out.

The information provided about the changes in other countries, and especially in Ireland, is welcome and timely, and should offer law-makers a useful and practical reference.

An issue of great importance to every university is the possibility of media recording for teaching and research purposes, without which much teaching and research of media outputs cannot proceed. Here the fact that some contractual arrangements may take much material out of the reach of the current legislation is a worry not only to those whose duty, like the BL, is to record and archive such outputs, but also to academics in the field.

Harmonising the legislation to include such materials under the same provisions would be most welcome rationalisation of the law. The same applies to the exception for copying for research and private study being extended. The recommendations in the BL’s response best represent the sector’s interests, in our view.

An important area of change is also the issue of changing technologies and new media where documents are in danger of being lost altogether, as there is no legal way of archiving them under current legislation. In such cases, we feel that the public interest will be best served by allowing the process of archiving to proceed, hence the necessary inclusion of such areas of work. The recommendations by BL on Digital Rights Management and Technical Protection Measures have our strong support, in the interest of public and research access.

There are many issues on which add to the cost of managing copyright and IP, and hence reduce the level of service provided by libraries, archives and Higher Education Institutions, as well as the Research Councils, including inter-library loans, the provision for the visually-impaired, as well as resolving the complex perennial contradiction between contract law and copyright legislation. A simpler, fairer and more accessible legislation, balancing the principles of public access to information with appropriate protection of IP would be in the interests of all of us. This will need to be supplemented by new licensing arrangements to cover the legitimate use of this material over and above the exceptions being discussed here (such as educational use of the whole of an item rather than part). Hence we fully support the detailed and careful work done by the British Library, and hope that the legislation closely follows public interest and priorities as outlined therein.

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