Illegal Sites and Web-blocking

In the last week there have been three stories in the news concerning copyright infringement and “illegal websites”. In each case, a group with an interest in enforcing copyright has called for or announced measures against such websites, but this raises an important question of what makes a website illegal. In terms of copyright infringement this is a very tricky question as there is no easy way to tell whether content or a service is unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »

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What Makes Something Fair? – A close look at fair dealing

When copyright law was first introduced by the Copyright Act 1710, there were no defences available – is a registered book was copying, it was an infringement. Over the next two hundred years, judicial activism in this area led to a general defence known as “fair use.” The importance of this defence was recognised by Parliament and was included in the 1911 Copyright Act under the new name “fair dealing”.

Today, the fair dealing defences cover three main areas of permitted acts; private study and research, criticism and review, and news reporting. This is an exhaustive list and no other types of use can be covered. These defences are now found in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act and added to these is an exception for education. While the requirements for each individual area are laid out in the Act, the definition of fairness is not given and so has been developed by the Courts. Read the rest of this entry »

Legalising Format-shifting

Format-shifting, space-shifting and time-shifting are curious oddities of copyright law. Two of these three are currently illegal in the UK, all are routinely done by thousands, if not millions of people across the country. While there have been attempts and drives to change this by legalising format- and space-shifting, the current EU laws on copyright seem designed to prevent such a reduction to copyright law. Read the rest of this entry »

Are You a Pirate? – The Vast Scope of Copyright

If you went out into the streets and asked members of the public their thoughts on copyright, I imagine you would end up with the following sorts of results. Most people respect copyright. They think it is a valuable tool for encouraging artistic works. Or they think it is a fundamental right that creators have to protect their work. Or they are not quite sure what they think, but they know copyright is important, that they would never infringe copyright and that only pirates and criminals would do so.

Now imagine going out into the street and asking those same people to sing or hum a few lines from their favourite song (or simply sing you Happy Birthday). I imagine that many people (provided you asked nicely) would be happy to oblige – after all, there is clearly nothing improper about doing so. Except there is. Arguably, such an act would count as an infringement of copyright; if the song was still covered by copyright (for songs, until 70 years after the death of the author(s) in the UK) the law makes it very clear that a “performance of the work in public is an act restricted by the copyright”1 and that a “performance” includes “any mode of visual or acoustic presentation”.”2 By merely singing or humming a few lines (arguably a “substantial part”) there is a prima facie infringement. That person would now be a pirate.

Read the rest of this entry »