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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson): I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) on introducing the Bill and my thanks to the impressive list of people who have contributed to the Bill being in the shape it is and being considered in the House today.
We have heard once again how the Bill will considerably assist visually impaired people who are currently unable to read so much of the material that we all take for granted, ranging from books, magazines and newspapers to maps, washing machine instructions and knitting or cross-stitch patterns. However, the Bill must also take into account the legitimate interests of copyright owners. Government support has therefore been conditional on maintaining an appropriate balance between copyright owners and visually impaired people.
As hon. Membersand sometimes delightful onesknow, the Government have helped with the drafting of the Bill to remove certain technical deficiencies and build in some additional safeguards for copyright owners. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West has already reviewed a number of important points, but it might be helpful if I comment on concerns that I have discussed recently with rights holders.
Those concerns relate to the multiple copy exception to copyright, which applies only when accessible copies are made and supplied by an approved body to visually impaired people for their personal use. Rights holders have expressed a desire for a narrower definition of approved body because of the difficulty of identifying which bodies might seek to rely on that exception. However, the making of accessible copies must be notified to rights holders within a reasonable time; copyright owners will therefore be well placed to learn what activity occurs under the copyright exception and which bodies are involved.
We have already promised guidance so that approved bodies will understand their obligations should they choose to help visually impaired people by activity under the exception. I have recently promised some of the organisations representing rights holders that we shall consult them as we draft guidance, but we must also make sure that organisations such as the RNIB play a part both by helping us to make the guidance as clear as possible, and by helping to disseminate the guidance to those bodies that are able to act under the second exception.
We do not feel that it would be right to narrow further the definition of an approved body so as to limit the potential range of bodies that could help visually impaired people. Much of the work of transcription into alternative formats is likely to be done by national organisations that help visually impaired people in particular, but given the range of materialmuch of which we have heard about during the debatethat might need to be put into an alternative format, and the cost of doing that, it would be unhelpful to visually impaired people to choose a narrow definition of approved body. That could prevent many other not-for-profit bodies that may occasionally want to act from being able to do so under the Bill.
Clause 5, which inserts new section 31E into the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, gives the Secretary of State the power to vary the scope of the multiple copy exception to copyright where there has been
The order-making power applies either where certain, or certain types, of approved bodies have behaved irresponsibly to the extent that copyright infringement has had a serious impact on copyright owners, or where the making of certain types of accessible copy has had a similar effect. For the record, I state categorically that we are prepared to use that power as a matter of urgency to disapply the exception from a particular body that is claiming to act under the exception if it is involved in activity that seriously undermines rights holders' interests. We are also ready to introduce an order with a more general effect should the exception lead to serious harm of a more general nature. The process for dealing with complaints from rights holders about abuse of that exception can be set out in more detail in the guidance.
Approved bodies that decide to act under the legislation to make much-needed accessible copies for visually impaired people must appreciate that they have a responsibility to observe all the conditions in the legislation or in a licence provided under the licensing scheme. If they do so, they will be able to give real assistance to visually impaired people who cannot currently access copyright material, and the Bill will represent a major step forward in reducing the social exclusion of visually impaired people. If they do not, those bodies must understand that we shall be prepared to use the order-making power in appropriate cases.
The other matter about which copyright owners are especially concerned is the meaning of the phrase "reasonably practicable" in new section 31B(8). In determining whether it is reasonably practicable to re-apply copyright protection technology, the cost of doing so is not intended to be a relevant factor, and the guidance we have promised can certainly cover that point as well. The test is really one of whether re-applying it is technically possible: for example, there would be no point in insisting that copy protection that made the copyright work inaccessible in the first place should be put back on.
Advances in technology do, however, provide an opportunity to ensure that an original lack of access due to incompatibility between copy protection and visually impaired people's access technology does not even arise. If the original digital copy is accessible to all, it will not be possible to act under this exception. Technology can help only if everyone understands each other's problem and is willing to help find the solution, so it will be necessary for the organisations representing the rights holders and those representing visually impaired people to work with those who develop the relevant technologies to ensure that lack of access does not inadvertently arise in the first place.
The multiple copy exception is rightly overridden where copyright owners have set up a licensing scheme, because it must not totally remove the copyright owners' ability to seek remuneration by way of a copyright royalty. Of course, licensing under a licensing scheme can also be used to give copyright owners a valuable closer relationship with approved bodies.
New section 31D does not allow a licensing scheme to be "unreasonably restrictive", and that is defined in subsection (2) to rule out in general any terms or conditions that would restrict the doing of anything that would be possible under section 31B or 31C. Clearly, that makes sense, but I would like to comment on which body can decide what is unreasonably restrictive. The Copyright Tribunal is an independent body already established by copyright law to decide more generally whether terms and conditions of licensing schemes are "reasonable in the circumstances".
For licensing schemes set up in this new area, part of the Copyright Tribunal's judgment of what is reasonable in the circumstances could concern whether the scheme is unreasonably restrictive, but we have been encouraging those setting up or changing licensing schemes in any area to consult fully the representatives of those who will be affected by the schemes: the users of the copyright material.
We are ready to facilitate any discussions about licensing schemes in this area, if necessary, so that concerns about opposed schemes that might be unreasonably restrictive can be addressed at an early stage. That should give all concerned greater certainty that a scheme is not one that can be challenged as unreasonably restrictive.
New section 31C permits an approved body to keep intermediate copies against their future use to make more accessible copies. An approved body can also lend or transfer an intermediate copy, but only to another approved body that is entitled to make accessible copies of the copyright work itself under section 31B. It would be wrong to permit the transfer of an intermediate copy to a body that could not use it under the exception, as there would be a high risk that it would use it for an illegal purpose. Moreover, that limitation means that an intermediate copy can be transferred only to another approved body in the UK, as section 31B will be inserted in UK copyright law and cannot apply to what people do in other countries.
I, too, am concerned that the Bill will not allow databases to be copied without infringing copyright. As I said in Committee, we are taking up the matter with the Commission, including in the context of the current review of the database directive.
The Bill provides all the necessary checks and balances, while offering the prospect of real help for visually impaired people. Several hon. Members have explained just how important that help is, and just how much it will be valued. I am delighted to reaffirm the Government's continuing support for the Bill.
I offer my hon. Friend my warmest congratulations on having brought the Bill so far through so much hard work, and I share other hon. Members' admiration for all her efforts. I hope that it will continue to receive the widespread support in the other place that it has rightly enjoyed thus far in the House of Commons. I commend it to the House.