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This is the reply I received, on 27th May 2002, from Melanie Johnson MP. See my EUCD page for more information on this correspondence. Please note that any textual errors in this page are almost certainly transcription errors on my part. I have replied to this letter.
16th May 2002.
Mr. Chris Lightfoot, [my address]
Thank you for your letter of 15 April to Douglas Alexander covering correspondence from your constituent about the EU Directive on copyright and related rights in the information society (2001/29/EC). I am replying as the Minister responsible for copyright issues.
Mr. Lightfoot is primarily concerned about the potential impact of Article 6 of the copyright Directive which requires Member States to provide legal protection for technological measures used by right owners to protect their material against unauthorised copying. Article 6 is an important provision and stems from two new treaties agreed in December 1996 under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The UK fully supports this international obligation to outlaw unauthorised circumvention of technological protection measures. It is an important step in ensuring continued and effective protection of copyright material in the digital age. It will assist in the fight against piracy on the Internet. The UK of course depends on international copyright agreements to ensure that UK creativity and investment are properly protected abroad.
The copyright Directive as a whole seeks to satisfy many of the obligations arising from the WIPO treaties. The Directive is in force and, as Mr. Lightfoot is aware, the UK is now legally obliged to comply with its provisions, including those of Article 6. We need to do so by 22 December 2002 and we are currently analysing what changes will be needed to UK copyright law. In due course, we will consult widely on the outcome of our deliberations. However, our general intention is to retain, as far as possible, existing exceptions in UK copyright law, including those for libraries and archives, and those in the education and domestic areas. In addition, the Government are supporting the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill also mentioned by your constituent.
Article 6 of the copyright Directive was the subject of long and careful deliberations during the process which led up to the adoption of the Directive, both in the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and I cannot agree that it will have unjustified or undesirable effects as Mr. Lightfoot suggests. In particular, I would point out that Article 6 seeks to strike a fair balance between the interests of right owners and legitimate users of protected material, by providing that Member States can take action to ensure that users can generally still benefit from exceptions to copyright in national laws. Moreover, it is recognised that we are in a period of fairly rapid technological change, and the Directive therefore also provides for a review mechanism, including further examination of the impact of technological measures on lawful uses of protected material.
Mr. Lightfoot's concerns about technological measures are quite wide-ranging and not all are directly related to the copyright Directive. Indeed, the regional coding of DVD players is not a copyright issue as such. It is, rather, a consequence of the staged cinema release of films adopted by United States studios, and would seem unlikely to be caught by Article 6 which limits the technical measures enjoying legal protection to those designed to protect copyright or related rights.
I hope that this explanation of the background to Mr. Lightfoot's concerns is helpful.
Copyright (c) 2002 Chris Lightfoot. All rights reserved.