By Claire West

Government proposals to better align UK copyright law with more relaxed US rules should free intellectual property regulation to become an economic stimulus rather than a creative stranglehold, according to Susan Hall, leading IP Lawyer at Cobbetts LLP.

Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced on 4 November that UK copyright laws are to be reviewed to “make them fit for the internet age”, a move that has been hailed as a major step forward by internet campaigners who believe it will give a much needed boost to creative and media businesses in the UK. The six-month review, which will report next April, will outline recommended changes to the law.

Cameron noted that the founders of Google had told the Government that they could not have started the company in Britain, on account of the country’s restrictive copyright system.

Susan Hall, partner at Cobbetts LLP, said: “The UK must embrace innovation and creativity. At present, our copyright laws are repressing it, as evidenced by the Prime Minister’s comments around Google. With recent legislation such as the Digital Economy Act and proposals to increase the term of copyright yet further, from 70 years after the author's death to ninety years, the balance of power has slid very far in favour of existing rights-holders. While no one is advocating rampant plagiarism or piracy, it is essential that creative individuals or organisations can take concepts and rework or remix them for alternative creative purposes.

“Transformative use is a key step in innovation in technology and the arts, and in the medium to long term can provide economic benefits, particularly in the field of creative industries. Under new ‘fair use’ rules, companies and individuals could use another author’s work providing, amongst other restrictions, that it does not impact the potential market for the copyrighted work and that it results in innovative new creative works being produced. For example, in the US a re-written version of Gone With the Wind — The Wind Done Gone — which looked at the US Civil War novel from the perspective of the slaves was held to be a valid and important transformational work.

“For technology businesses, the changes will add more certainty around what can be patented and ways in which they can protect their IP. This will ensure fewer legal disputes, greater transparency around their own IP and greater stability in the long term.

Internet Campaigners have also outlined a need to reform user rights, following the passing of the controversial Digital Economy Bill. Hall concluded: “Rules around moving music from one format to another must also be addressed. For example, the law does not differentiate between an individual transferring music from a CD that they have paid for to their MP3 player, and someone downloading music from a file sharing network and uploading it to a portable device — both are deemed illegal and in breach of copyright. The law must be better aligned with what is honest and moral, as in these cases there is a very clear difference.”