Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill

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Mr. John Taylor: There are times when it is a profound disadvantage to be a lawyer, for example, when the lawyer knows that something is wrong, and the layman knows that it does not matter.

Mr. Boswell: I shall reflect on that observation. I have never seen my hon. Friend disadvantaged by his legal qualifications, which add something to his contributions.

We all know that the subject is arcane and technical, but there appears to be no way in which an approved body can be dis-approved. No one can say that a body is no longer suitable because it is abusing normal practice, for example. As the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West reminded the Committee, new clause 5 contains a sanctions procedure. A copy that has been taken improperly will be illegal and not properly licensed. The concern mentioned by copyright holders is that there is no way to cut off at source consistent misconduct by an approved body. It cannot be dis-approved, although it could be penalised for any infringement that it committed. Will the hon. Lady reflect on that?

New section 31B(7) of the 1998 Act, which is proposed in new clause 2, also refers to an approved body—it is on that basis that the new clause has been tabled. It states that

    ''An approved body . . . must, if it is an educational establishment, ensure that the copies will be used only for its educational purposes'',

but is silent on whether the other type of approved bodies must tie copies to educational purposes. The other type of body probably has a wider remit, but I shall deal primarily with educational purposes. Publishers and others feel that the term is ''dangerously wide'', and state:

    ''This danger could be limited if copying could only be done 'for the personal use of visually impaired persons''',

rather than for wider ''educational purposes''. They add that the term should apply to all approved bodies, as I suggested a moment ago. Their point, which is at least worth considering, is whether it would be possible to impart an additional safeguard to prevent copying

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taking place and the copies then being used on the pretext of being used for wider educational purposes, which would mean that copying would spread much wider than the limited remit of the Bill.

Let us pass to some technical points about information technology. Others on the Committee, including the hon. Member for Eccles, are more expert on the subject than I am, but it is clear to me that the purpose of encryption is to provide safeguards for the rights holder. We ought to base our approach to the making of intermediate copies on the principle that the safeguards should be unimpaired—they should remain at the same level, and should not be attenuated or diminished.

The rights holders are sufficiently concerned to suggest that the safeguards are ''dangerously weakened'' by the Bill. That concerns them because of the proviso that the protection under proposed new section 31B(8) may be extended to accessible copies

    ''so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so''.

They feel that in practice that provides no protection at all. I am not sure whether they are right about that, but I am sure that the point is reasonable and legitimate and should be considered. The question is whether those who make intermediate copies from an encrypted original should use all reasonable measures available to them to ensure that the degree of protection is not diminished. Again, it is not a matter of getting at the various responsible bodies who will seek to make intermediate copies and ultimately copies for use, but a matter of trying to deal with anybody who might be less careful about protecting rights holders.

A final and slightly more general point that continues to cause concern to rights holders relates to the licensing schemes in new clause 4. They feel that there is a degree of laxity—my phrase, not theirs—about the way in which those who copy do so, what constitutes a reasonably practical set of safeguards. Conversely, when it comes to the licensing scheme that a rights holder may wish to set out—we do not object in principle to licensing schemes, which are very welcome—they feel that the provisions are unworkably complex, particularly in relation to proposed new section 31D(1)(b), which refers to situations in which

    ''the scheme is not unreasonably restrictive''.

Of course we do not want it to be unreasonably restrictive. However, the rights holders take the view that any such questions can be dealt with by the copyright tribunal, which was created expressly for such purposes. They wonder whether the provisions are needed at all.

There is no intention on our part—although in respect of certain types of private Members' legislation, it has been intended in the past—to create a spider's web of difficulties into which the Bill will inevitably fall and disappear. The Bill is a good one, the intentions behind it are good, and excellent work has been done on it. I am sure that most people seeking to make use of it will do so for the

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purposes for which it was intended and will act in a highly responsible manner. I am also confident, given the institutions involved, that there will be a desire to involve the authors and have an open and transparent exchange along the lines that I touched on in my opening remarks. That is not an issue.

I am grateful to the Bill's promoter and the Minister for the spadework that has gone into removing the difficulties. At an early stage of the Bill's consideration, we are very nearly there already. I have identified three or four remaining items of concern, but provided there is good will, it will not be beyond the wit of man and woman to iron those out, too. I hope that in receiving our support for the Bill and the new clauses, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West will find time to reflect and take the necessary advice on them. The Minister and she can go back to the Publishers Licensing Society and others and talk the measures through. I hope that we will come back on Report with an entirely agreed measure. It is agreed in substance; we now need to ensure only that it is agreed in detail.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook, and to have the opportunity to contribute to this Committee. As I indicated on Second Reading, I wholly support the Bill. It is an extremely valuable measure and I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West not only on having had the good fortune to have the opportunity to present the Bill, but for having done so with such skill and perseverance. I would also like to congratulate the Minister on having the good sense to recognise the value of the Bill. She has clearly arranged for work to be done within her Department to provide a workable piece of legislation, bringing forward proposals for amendment, which I am sure that the Committee welcomes as a valuable step in our considerations.

We must draft a Bill that achieves the clear objectives set out for it: establishing a necessary balance by allowing blind and partially sighted people access to material that they would otherwise only obtain with difficulty, while recognising the legitimate interests of authors, publishers and others involved in the industry and ensuring the protection of their copyright. If we can achieve those twin objectives, the Committee will have done a good job, and we are extremely close to achieving them.

At a recent meeting of the all-party group on eye health, which I have the pleasure of chairing, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West explained the provisions of her Bill. Representatives of authors and publishers were present to express any concerns. I found the meeting useful and hope that other members of the all-party group found it equally valuable and that it may form the basis of a consensual approach.

I have a few queries about the new clauses that I want to explore, not with the intention of dividing the Committee on the new clauses, which I wholeheartedly support, but to ensure that as many potential ambiguities as possible are ironed out. Issues of definition that always bedevil Bills of this kind. It is easy to have the intent but far more difficult to find the words that provide a workable definition that is robust

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in the face of legal challenge in the future. That is especially difficult in the context of the arcane world of copyright, which is complex and gives lawyers many hours of amusement and the rest of us many hours of cost.

Will the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West or the Minister assure me that the definitions of works in proposed new section 31A(1)(a) and (b) are all inclusive? I recognise that they are intended to be. The section defines specifically

    ''literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work''

but goes on to refer to ''a published edition''. I do not know whether there is a legal definition of a published edition, which is testament to my ignorance, but I hope that such a definition exists elsewhere in copyright law so that it is clear what ''published'' and ''edition'' mean in the context. I hope that the Bill is intended to cover scientific works, for example, and I want to be sure that they fall within the definition. Does the definition also cover publishing in electronic form, which is different from the old-fashioned form of publishing on paper? We need a workable definition for all forms of publication.

I query the exception made for databases, which is the result of European Union law in the form of the European Commission databases directive. Again, if the exception is an immovable object, so be it. I should like databases to be encompassed by the legislation, but if they cannot be so because of something that this country has already agreed to in another context, that is something that we shall simply have to regret.

I am concerned about scientific material, where part of a published work may contain a database that is intrinsic to the understanding of that work. I am thinking of university students and others who may require access to that material but find it difficult to do so. Is there any way in which the Bill can assist such individuals in accessing the information that they need to comprehend the published work?

11.15 am

The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) has already mentioned some of the concerns expressed by those who represent publishers and authors. The Committee must consider those concerns because we need to achieve a balance. He drew attention to the provision in new clause 2, which will form section 31B(7) of the 1988 Act, that states:

    ''copies will be used only for its educational purposes.''

The publishers argue that that is a dangerously wide term. In some ways, it is, but in other ways, it is a dangerously narrow term. There are many good reasons why people with a visual impairment may wish to access a work of literary, artistic or other merit, some of which may not be clearly defined as educational, but I see no reason why they should be refused access on the basis of that narrow definition.

I want to ensure that access is allowed for the right purposes—to address the problem of limited access as a result of visual impairment—but I do not want to introduce an artificial restriction that seeks to define an educational purpose. Certainly, in the case of libraries, I see no reason why someone should not access a

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published work for pleasure, pure and simple. Why should someone who is blind or visually impaired not have the pleasure of accessing a literary work, without the need to prove an educational purpose. I would hate to see a challenge on those very narrow grounds. I am not proposing an amendment, but I hope that that issue will be addressed.

The hon. Member for Daventry also raised a concern about protection of copy in electronic form. I am entirely ignorant about that and have no idea what the difficulties are or whether the term

    ''so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so''

will have a substantive effect, but it would be helpful to receive further assurances on that.

On the approved body, I, too, wondered whether the definition was appropriate. By what is a body approved, because there is no process of approval? A body is ''approved'' merely because that is the wording of the definition used in the legislation. I wonder whether the provision perhaps takes the wrong approach, by seeking to define those bodies that are approved—as an educational establishment or a body that is conducted not for profit—rather than defining those purposes that are not acceptable: in effect, the commercial exploitation of works. I merely put that suggestion to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West for her to consider. However, I entirely agree with her that it would be a great shame to restrict the definition too narrowly so that voluntary groups were prevented from making use of the provision. Perhaps a more appropriate definition would refer to those bodies that should not do so: those that are concerned with profit, with the improper commercial exploitation of copies made for this purpose. Perhaps that is a more definable property than that in the Bill.

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