Spot the Difference
Although it’s not easy to do, let’s compare and contrast US Copyright Law with UK Copyright Law:
Both are subject to the Berne Convention
Copyright duration is 70 years from the death of the author/creator in both laws
Copyright is an automatic right in both laws
Both recognise moral rights (to an extent)
Both have exceptions and/or defences to copyright infringement
The US has a system of copyright registration, the UK used to but it was abolished a long time ago
The major difference which Cameron arguably hasn’t taken into account is that the US has a system of Copyright Registration, whereas the UK does not. This system strengthens the hand of the rightsholder and allows them greater protection for their work, enabling them to claim significantly higher damages when infringement occurs. This, in my opinion, could be where an attempt to move towards US law may fail – rightsholders will simply see a move to expand fair dealing exceptions as an excuse for commercial entities to use their works for free.
So, the burning question.. what’s the difference between fair use and fair dealing?
One major difference is that the US Law lists the factors to be taken into consideration when determining whether the use made of a work is fair. These factors are as follows:
1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
These factors relate to a wide range of purposes for which use of copyright work is not considered an infringement. These purposes include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.
In the UK, there is no such definition of ‘fair’ in the Copyright Act. Rather, it is subject to the whims of case law, and since the eleven word infringement case in Denmark, societies and publishers are afraid to define the scope of what is considered ‘fair dealing’. Instead, UK fair dealing sets out provisions for each particular purpose rather than grouping them all together. Thus, criticism and review becomes one, non-commercial research another, and so on. Some fair dealing provisions do not extend to unpublished works (criticism and review, for example), whereas in the US “the fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors." (US Copyright Act)
This may be an ideal opportunity for educational institutions to provide a wish list of extensions to the fair dealing provisions set out in the Copyright Act to the government's review. As such, it should be seized by those working in education. Ideally, we would like to see 'fair' defined in UK law as it is in US law, and an expansion of the educational exceptions so that they are less technology-specific and allow for the use of material for the purposes of teaching/delivery of courses within educational institutions.
However, my cynical side is inclined to think that 6 months is not long enough to undertake a review of IP Law, when the Gowers Review took at least 4 years. And the provisions made there haven't even been implemented yet. My personal feeling is that if Cameron wants to go down the fair use path and widen the exceptions, chances are that he may have to make the process of dealing with copyright infringement easier for rightsholders. Without a system of copyright registration or even a central Copyright Office, the ideals of the fair use provisions may just be a slice of Google pie in the sky...