August 1, 2011 7:59 pm

Move to back private digital copying

Vince Cable, business secretary, will on Wednesday move to legitimise the “ripping” of digital copies of music and movies from discs for personal use and other copyright exceptions, following recommendations in the Hargreaves review of intellectual property.

Another proposed copyright exception backed by the government will make it easier for scientists to mine existing electronic journals to make discoveries.

But film companies are concerned that Mr Cable is also expected to shelve plans to streamline the process of forcing broadband providers to block piracy websites.

At an event at the British Library on Wednesday, Mr Cable is expected to announce his backing for many recommendations made by Professor Ian Hargreaves in his independent review of intellectual property. He will say that parts of the Digital Economy Act that allow for site blocking are unworkable.

The Digital Economy Act was passed in the final days of the Labour government in May last year amid controversy over its efforts to clamp down on piracy. Ofcom, the media regulator, has been reviewing its site-blocking provisions since February.

“We are determined to explore how exceptions to copyright can benefit the UK economy and support growth,” Mr Cable said. “Private copying is carried out by millions of people and many are astonished that it is illegal in this country.”

Prof Hargreaves’s independent review of intellectual property, published in May, recommended a wide range of changes to the UK’s copyright regime, including granting exceptions for parody videos and so-called “format shifting”, such as copying CDs to an iPod.

Nokia has endorsed the government’s format-shifting plans. Comedians such as the makers of Newport State of Mind – a popular YouTube spoof of Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind that had to be taken offline – will also welcome exceptions for parody.

But movie industry representatives oppose the change to allow format shifting, which would allow for digital copies of DVDs to be made for personal viewing on tablet computers such as the iPad.

Lavinia Carey, director-general of the British Video Association, said such a change would be “extremely damaging”.

“It’s for the rights owner to decide how to offer the [digital] copy,” she said. “People will find it much harder to forecast revenues to investors who are looking at funding new projects.”

Ms Carey said that the Digital Economy Act’s site-blocking provisions were “not as pressingly urgent” after several Hollywood studios won a case last week to force BT, the UK’s largest broadband provider, to block Newzbin, a piracy site.

But she said that the Newzbin case was expensive and a more “streamlined” legal process, as outlined in the act, would be “better for everybody”.

Mr Cable will also back exceptions for text and data mining for scientific research purposes. Some search and analysis techniques are outlawed under existing copyright law without permission from rights holders. Difficulties in identifying copyright owners have prevented such work.

Professor Doug Kell of the University of Manchester and the research council’s champion for research information, said the change would “remove previous barriers to innovation” and help ensure the UK remains “a dynamic and attractive place to conduct groundbreaking research”.

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