Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Wales Deaf Broadcasting Council

  On behalf of the Wales Deaf Broadcasting Council, I am writing to you in your capacity as Chair of the Committee dealing with the Communications Bill. We would be very grateful if your Committee examines the lack of a specific Welsh aspect to the Draft Communications Bill, which has been put out for joint consultation by the Department of Trade and Industry and DCMS.

  The Bill sets out various regulatory changes to broadcasting and importantly for us, the provision of subtitles for deaf viewers. Unfortunately the Bill fails to cover one aspect that relates to TV broadcasting in Wales. Within Wales we have Welsh language programmes provided by S4C. These are translated into English deaf-quality subtitles on Text page 888 for hearing-impaired viewers, though hearing non-Welsh speakers also benefit as a result. Welsh subtitles are also provided on Text page 889, these being for the benefit of both deaf Welsh speakers and hearing Welsh learners.

  You may not be aware that until quite recently Welsh language songs and lyrics were rarely subtitled in English, thus excluding deaf viewers from an important aspect of Welsh culture. It has emerged since last Autumn that one of the reasons for this omission is that this runs up against copyright problems. S4C has informed us that in their opinion subtitling songs (that is adapting and/or translating the lyrics of songs and other copyright material) is an act restricted by copyright and that it can only be done lawfully at present with the permission of the copyright holders.

  The situation is neatly outlined is EDM 1387, a copy of which is attached. This EDM has been signed by Members of the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, Scottish National Party and Conservative Party.

  BBC on the other hand is covered by blanket copyright approval for all English language songs to be subtitled as no translation is involved. S4C thus operates under a severe handicap as far as subtitles for deaf viewers are concerned.

  We were invited to meet the Patent Office to discuss subtitles but it was made clear that the Office did not want to consider legislative changes to cover S4C subtitles, as they are only concerned with UK-wide copyright legislation and will not get involved with Welsh/English translation issues. In addition the Office did not want to process legislation that puts deaf non-Welsh speakers at an advantage over hearing non-Welsh speakers. That completely misunderstands the nature of the service S4C provides. The point about the S4C subtitling service is that it provides access to programmes both to viewers that are deaf and to those who are hearing but do not understand Welsh. The service is equally accessible to any viewer on teletext 888. We also point out that the S4C digital service is made available via satellite throughout the UK so this is not about establishing rules for only a part of the UK.

  In view of the negative attitude of the Patent Office we saw no merit in discussing the S4C copyright problem with them as the Office refuses to consider any action to remedy the situation. The draft Communications Bill thus offers the most likely vehicle to solve this long-standing problem.

  In giving one reason for not exempting subtitles from copyright laws the Government has argued that "Authors are entitled to object to a translation were it to treat their creation in a derogatory way." This suggests that those who subtitle S4C programmes will behave in a less than professional manner. We have every confidence in the integrity of those who provide subtitles and we are unable to accept this unfair and unfounded assumption.

  S4C have said that although progress has been made recently "copyright problems will still be there until there's some change in Legislation." That is what both S4C and the Wales DBC are seeking.

  Because both Welsh and English languages are equal in law, we are requesting that your Committee please recommends to the Department of Trade and Industry, who are leading the consultation, to ask that a clause be inserted into the draft Bill to allow oral Welsh to English subtitles, and oral English to Welsh subtitles, to be exempt from copyright legislation.

  It will be unacceptable for the Government merely "to note" our representations. We in Wales expect action to overcome the copyright difficulties identified by S4C.

  The Disability Rights Commission has supported our view, which may also have implications for Gaelic Broadcasting in Scotland.

  This letter has been prepared in consultation with S4C and their evidence is attached for information.

July 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 August 2002