Archives & Copyright: the UK perspective

For the third panel, the Symposium’s focus shifted to the current proposals for copyright reform within the UK as they affect the archive sector. The Intellectual Property Office was represented by two speakers: Robin Stout, a Copyright Policy Advisor, and Nick Munn, the Deputy Director for Copyright.

“The overriding purpose [of the new legislation] is to bring it all up to date and make sure copyright doesn’t stand in the way of uses that don’t really cause any harm or undermine copyright, but could provide a lot of benefits to people.”STOUT


A transcript of this presentation is available here.

Together, they presented an overview of the recent work of the Intellectual Property Office in realising the recommendations of the Hargreaves Review, while specifically addressing the proposed changes to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA).

In particular, Munn emphasised the IPO’s willingness and desire to engage with informed stakeholders and constituencies – such as the archive sector – about the nature and implementation of copyright reform, and stressed the value and importance of providing the IPO with reliable data about the reality of copyright clearance and diligent search within an archival context.

“We are caught between the need to protect copyright as a thing which protects people who do creative things... but also to make sure that sensible things done by sensible people – and the Codebreakers Project and others that we’ve heard about today are very much in that category – can still happen with the minimum of fuss.” MUNN


A transcript of this presentation is available here.

Tim Padfield, the former Copyright and Information Policy Officer at The National Archives, concluded this panel with a critique of the proposed reforms. A number of the reforms were welcomed, such as the expanded scope of the preservation exception (s.42), and the steps taken to simplify the operation of the legislation.

In addition, Padfield drew attention to the potential significance of s.76 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, a provision that enables the government to reduce the duration of copyright for very old unpublished works which, because of current transitional provisions on the copyright term, remain in copyright until 2039 (CDPA, Schedule 1, s.12). Government action on this issue would not only lead to a significant reduction in the number of orphan works held by UK heritage institutions, but it would, in Padfield’s words, resolve one of the major absurdities of the current copyright regime.

“I think archivists are scared by copyright, which is sad but not surprising.” PADFIELD


A transcript of this presentation is available here.

However, Padfield also called for further action and reform. For example, he reiterated the need to extend the scope of the current exceptions that enable copying of published work by libraries (CDPA, ss. 38 and 39) so they also apply to archives. Moreover, he remained sceptical about the usefulness of the proposed European and UK orphan works schemes in relation to large scale digitisation initiatives, leading him to conclude that risk management would become an increasingly important issue for the archive sector as a mechanism for dealing with rights clearance.

On the latter point, Padfield’s observation was, in some respects, mirrored by Nick Munn. While making very clear that the government could not explicitly condone a risk-managed approach to copyright compliance, there was, nevertheless, a frank acknowledgement and appreciation of why archivists might feel compelled to employ such a strategy as a practical response to the challenges of enabling greater online access to archival material. Munn put it as follows: “We know why you take it [a risk-managed approach], we know why you’re interested in doing that for your own laudable objectives, and that will continue to be an option, as far as I can see, into the future.”

For a full transcript of this panel, and to leave feedback on the discussion within the panel, click here.

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