Libraries, the universe and everything

Copyright after the Hargreaves Report
January 10, 2012, 16:43
Filed under: Chartership, CPD | Tags: , ,

It seems to me that event topics can be assigned to one of three categories – things you know about already, things you want to know about, and things you really don’t want to know about but feel that you ought.

On Monday 9th January I attended a talk given by Charles Oppenheim at the Sekforde Arms (organised by CILIP’s London branch), and on the face of it this definitely fell into the third category. I don’t have a great deal to do with copyright, and when I do have to tackle it my brain cells tend to collapse into small whimpering heaps of mush. However, full of new-found chartership enthusiasm, I decided that it would be good for me and duly signed up.

I was aware of Charles’ reputation and had heard good things about him as a speaker, and had also read some of the press coverage when the Hargreaves review was released so I was hoping that the evening wouldn’t be too painful or go too far above my head, and as it happened I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I thought that Charles was an excellent speaker, fluent and engaging, and I certainly now have a much clearer idea of the copyright law landscape. I do like the room-above- a-pub format for events as it means that speakers are unable to mess around with presentations and simply have to rely on telling a good story to get their point across, and Charles made excellent use of anecdotes to illustrate his narrative. I think he spoke for about an hour, then spent quite a while longer taking questions from the audience, but I didn’t look at my watch at either end of the talk so can’t be absolutely sure (another clear sign I was immersed in the proceedings!).

In brief, the points I took away from the talk were as follows:

  • UK copyright law is in a mess – outdated and anachronistic, it fails to reflect what people actually do with material and is in danger of becoming completely obsolete (for example, copying tracks from a CD you’ve bought to your iPod is apparently illegal)
  • The Hargreaves review was commissioned on a totally erroneous basis but nevertheless managed to get beyond this and produce some eminently sensible recommendations.
  • The 3-strikes-and-you’re-out rule imposed by the Digital Economy Act is a truly dreadful piece of legislation.
  • Most MPs have no idea about IP and copyright issues in the real world.
  • Copyright legislation (all legislation, surely?) ought to be based on evidence rather than hearsay and lobbying.
  • Hargreaves advocated the establishment of an agency to manage copyright issues for orphan works – reproduction fees would be paid to this agency who would then reimburse the rights-holder if they subsequently emerged.
  • Exceptions to copyright law need to be extended: they should cover all media types and be made more generous. E.g.: fair dealing should apply to sound recordings, greater copying for teaching purposes should be permitted, libraries should be allowed to copy AV material for preservation purposes, current exceptions for people with visual disabilities should also apply to those with dyslexia, data mining for academic research purposes should be made legal. Furthermore, legal entitlements should never be overridden by contracts with CLA-type organisations.
  • The IPO should be able to give advice on copyright matters, not just administer them, and there should be a small-claims-court type route for SMEs and individuals to pursue copyright infringements.

Charles predicted that although the government currently seems minded to accept most of the Hargreaves recommendations they are likely to be considerably watered-down following intense pressure by rights-holders (thereby making instant mockery of their supposed support for evidence-based copyright law).

Questions after the talk covered the issues around the ownership of the copyright in the podcast recording being made of the session, the benefits of creative commons licenses, the potential problems with creating deep links to 3rd-party websites (if in doubt link to their homepage), and a few other issues I neglected to note down.

Charles concluded with the helpful advice that in general we need to be pragmatic about all of this – the main thing with copyright issues is to use judgement in order to mitigate risk (whilst obviously doing one’s best to act within the law). If in doubt consider the following:

1. How likely is this action to be an infringement of copyright?

2. Assuming it is an infringement, how likely is the rights-holder to find out about it?

3. Assuming they do find out, how likely are they to object? (In practice apparently very few people do object, but it should be fairly easy to predict those who may.)

Charles also encouraged us all to have a look at the call for evidence which the government have released following the Hargreaves report, and to submit our own evidence wherever possible. A number of submissions are currently being prepared by the library and archive community but it is important that as much relevant evidence as possible is submitted, particularly as major rights-holders will certainly be having their say on the matter. The text of the Hargreaves review and details of the call for evidence can be found at

So, what does this all mean for me? At present, I’m afraid, very little. I’ve had a quick skim through the call for evidence and I can’t see anything which I can immediately respond to, though I will have a read through some of the other submissions and see if they set off any useful trains of thought.

That said, I found the evening extremely informative, and as I’m sure I will need to grapple more closely with copyright issues at some stage in my career I’m really glad to have gained a greater understanding into how copyright legislation stands at this moment in time – I feel that I now have an informed perspective from which to view future post-Hargreaves developments, and I’m absolutely certain that having this level of understanding will encourage me to engage further with it all, whereas before I would probably just have muttered ‘eurgh, copyright’ and turned away.

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you, Emma, for your kind review!



Comment by Charles Oppenheim

[…] of the main talk. (On a slightly irrelevant note I was also really pleased I’d attended an event on copyright so recently as it meant I could understand some of the issues which came up within the talk and in […]


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