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The Digital Economy Bill

The Bill is under consideration by the House of Lords.  It is a huge piece of legislation, much of it welcome. However, as Parliament is going to be dissolved soon, it remains to be seen how much of the Bill, if any, will become law.

There are three areas – in addition to the anti-piracy provisions – that are of particular significance for authors:

Public Lending Right

The Bill has a section that would extend PLR to include audio-books and to a limited degree e-books. For copyright reasons performers and producers would also be included as well.  In response to worries that ebook loans by libraries might diminish their commercial value, ebook loans will not qualify for PLR ‘if made by electronic transmission to a place other than library premises’.

Orphan Works

The Bill attempts to make it easier for users, including authors, to be able to reproduce ‘orphan works’ (i.e. works in copyright but whose owner cannot be traced). The aim is laudable, but we have expressed a number of concerns including:

(a)    ‘orphan works’ need to be clearly defined;

(b)    only ‘licensing bodies’, representing the relevant category of rights holder, should be authorised to operate orphan works licensing schemes;

(c)    users should be required to exercise ‘due diligence’ rather than conduct a ‘reasonable search’;

(d)    the way in which an ‘orphan works register’ (introduced by a government amendment to the Bill) would work is complicated and far from clear.

Extended Licensing

A short section of the Bill would give the Secretary of State wide power to authorise a licensing body to grant copyright licences which would be binding on rightsholders unless they opted out with respect to the relevant rights. While the Intellectual Property Office has given assurances that extended licensing would only be introduced after wide and detailed consultation, we do not understand or accept the need for extended licensing schemes, other than in relation to orphan works, except possibly in very limited and specific circumstances and after the fullest consultation with copyright owners likely to be affected.  By contrast, the breadth of the power given to the Secretary of State is very wide and lacks any detail or limitations.