Copyright law changes could hamper the press

Hobson: law could affect journalists

Media lawyers have warned that changes to UK copyright law could infringe on the work of journalists.

The EU Copyright Directive came into force at the end of October with the intention of harmonising the law in this area across member states.

According to Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, the law could affect the work of biographers and journalists.

Partner Andrew Hobson said: “Before this directive, a biographer of a poet could quote from others’ reviews of his work or from letters criticising or explaining the work without permission.

Under the new rules, he will need permission from the authors of the letters or from their estates – unless he can show they have been published, say in another biography or if they are available in a library.”

He said the law could similarly affect journalists, although they may have a defence in reporting current affairs. “In order to publish unseen letters from Diana Spencer, a journalist would have to show that it was necessary to do so to report current affairs.”

Hobson added: “This may be difficult to do in a general profile of her as she has been dead for some years.

Previously, an extract could have been quoted freely if it was being done, for example, to show her state of mind when writing another letter.

“The UK is known for its fairly healthy examination of the actions and motives of public figures and celebrities. Restricting the public’s access to original source material will have an impact on that.”

Angela Mills Wade, from the European Publishers Council, said she didn’t believe the directive would change the way journalists worked.

She said: “There is a fair dealing exception for comment and review. The directive talks about giving recognition to the source where possible.

“It is slightly unfortunate because there is this provision where you could be challenged by somebody who felt their work hadn’t been duly credited.”

A related piece of legislation, the Intellectual Property Rights (EU Enforcement Directive), was introduced at the European Parliament this week. It could be introduced to UK law in 2005 and will also have repercussions for journalism.

The European Publishers Council has called on the European Parliament to use the bill to harden up measures to stop counterfeiting and piracy.

The EPC has also asked for amendments to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and to remove any test that an intellectual property infringement must be for commercial purposes only.

By Dominic Ponsford

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