News agencies go on the offensive, call for judicial review of copyright changes

A consortium of news agencies that include Associated Press, Getty Images, Reuters, British Pathé, Press Association and the Federation of Commercial and Audiovisual Libraries has threatened to launch a Judicial Review into the government's plans to change the UK's copyright laws

Olivier Laurent — 14 January 2013

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The world’s largest news agencies have delivered a Letter Before Claim to the UK’s business secretary Vince Cable, in what is described as the first step in the process of initiating a Judicial Review – a formal legal challenge to planned governmental legislation.

Associated Press, Getty Images, Reuters, British Pathé, Press Association, and the Federation of Commercial and Audiovisual Libraries are objecting to Clauses 66, 67 and 68 of the Enterprise and Regularoty Reform Bill, which will allow the government to make changes to copyright exceptions, reduce the length of term of copyright, and allow the licensing of Orphan Works.

In its Letter Before Claim, the consortium of news agencies call into question the government’s rational to propose these changes. “The consortium believes that the economic growth arguments originally put forward to justify the Government’s proposals are without basis and has challenged the Government’s plans to introduce its proposed changes through so-­‐called `Henry VIII clauses` -­ secondary legislation which is not subject to the full scrutiny of Parliament, which includes visibility to the public.”

Despite widespread international concerns, first voiced in the US by a wide range of organisations representing photographers and visual artists, the government and the Intellectual Property Office are moving forward with their plans.

“The consortium believes that any changes to the UK’s copyright framework should be industry-led and fully supports the creation of the Copyright Hub – an initiative led by businesses and stakeholders to create a digital registry of copyrighted works,” it says in a statement issued to the press. The Copyright Hub is an overarching rights registry for digital media, linking together existing and future Digital Copyright Exchanges such as Amazon, Getty Images, Alamy and the iTunes Store, among many others.

“The technology, academic and cultural heritage sectors want to be able to use other people’s copyright property without having to ask or pay for it, and view copyright law as an obstacle,” says Paul Ellis of the Stop 43 organisation. “Under their intense propaganda and lobbying onslaught several governments have fallen for this line and are trying to introduce laws that weaken copyright, such as the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill now going through Parliament. All these Governments are signatories of the Berne Convention and must provide clear minimum levels of copyright protection, not least to citizens of other signatory countries, and therein lies the problem: these legislative attempts to weaken copyright breach our international treaty obligations.”

He adds: “Their last try was three years ago, with Clause 43 of the Digital Economy Bill, and these lobbying-driven legislative attempts to confiscate our property will no doubt continue until a highly placed court rules them illegal under international law. That, we hope, is what this Judicial Review will achieve.”

More soon…