Thursday, 5 June 2014

Exceptional copyright ... and Werner Heisenberg

It's been good news and bad for the progress of the UK government's widening of copyright extensions. Basically, copyright exceptions are those things you are allowed to do with a copyright work without actually infringing the copyright. Traditionally this has been things like criticism and review ... and for reporting of news. In the UK it's known as fair dealing and in the US as fair use, although they are not exactly the same thing (but don't expect me to even try to explain the difference here ... even if I could).

I'll just remind you that when you publish something, or make it available to the public (again similar but not the same) you need to have the right to do so. On a web site you operate internationally by default, even if your intended audience is only in one country. So everyone building a web site needs to have some basic understanding of intellectual property.

There were five new categories of exception that were supposed to enter UK law this week.
  • Public Administration
  • Disability
  • Research, Education, Libraries and Archives
  • Parody
  • Private copying
Two of these have proved particularly bothersome to the copyright community (the last two) so they are being further discussed while the others became law on June 1st.

Private copying starts off as putting CDs on your iPhone but has wider implications such as making copies of your wedding photographs.

Parody is more fun.

The UK is not alone in having no parody exception. This surprises many foreigners, given our comic traditions. Generally, being able to parody something has relied on your ability to persuade the real rights owner to let you do so. I always think of the French and Saunders TV show take on Alien 2 in this context (although I have no idea how they got permission to do it). The basic premise was that if you needed some tough people to take on the alien hordes then you got them through the pages of the Spotlight casting directory. The joke-within-a-joke being that in media this is exactly what you do do!

I won't go into the basics on parody. I recommend the IP Kat for that (and regular reading too). Suffice to say that it has to be funny and has to be fair. But then Heisenberg enters the room.

In quantum physics, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle basically says the more you know about something's position, the less you know about its momentum/speed. I paraphrase this as meaning that the closer you look the fuzzier it gets.

As the IP Kat points out, adding a parody exception might not necessarily protect you from infringing moral rights or from an accusation of defamation.

There's a great French CD called 4 Beadochons dans le vent which is a collection of what sounds like Beatles songs but which put French lyrics to the melodies. The French lyrics sound rather like the original English. For example Assaut Sur Mon Grand-père to the tune of I Saw Her Standing There. Incidentally, Quatre Garçons Dans Le Vent was the French title for A Hard Day's Night. This hasn't (to my knowledge) been released in the UK but maybe a parody exception would allow it to be? Perhaps not, if it could be argued that the whole CD, with its Sgt Pepper parody cover design, was not fair dealing.

Clearly you (still?) need to tread carefully if you go down the parody path on your web site.


Just in case you didn't notice that a British judge asked the European Court to double-check that it was OK to look at a web site on your computer ... it is. The Register reports.

[As usual, nothing on this blog should be taken as legal advice. However much I think I know about copyright, I really know less.]

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