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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill

Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill

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Standing Committee D

Wednesday 1 May 2002

[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill

Clause 1

Amendment of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988,

10.30 am

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following: New clause 1—Accessible copies of copyright work for visually impaired persons.

New clause 2—Multiple copies for visually impaired persons.

New clause 3—Intermediate copies and records.

New clause 4—Licensing schemes.

New clause 5—Limitations, etc. following infringement of copyright.

New clause 6—Interpretation of sections 31A to 31E.

New clause 7—Consequential amendments.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I am delighted that you are chairing the Committee, Mr. Cook. I have had previous experience of your skills in the House and in the international setting, and as a novice at promoting Bills and tabling amendments, I could ask for no better guide.

I should also say at the outset how much I appreciate the cross-party support that I have received, and I thank hon. Members for being present. I offer special thanks to the Minister.

Let me explain why I shall invite the Committee to agree that clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill and why I have tabled seven new clauses, when the two exceptions to copyright that they deliver for the benefit of visually impaired people are very close to those in clause 1.

The purpose of clause 1 is clear, but unfortunately I have become aware that it lacks clarity in some places and is technically at fault in others. I hope that the new clauses will remedy those problems and make one or two useful changes to provide further safeguards for copyright owners. I am grateful for the assistance of my hon. Friend the Minister in drafting provisions that will deliver the intended benefits for visually impaired people.

In devising exceptions to copyright, it is always necessary, but often difficult, to strike the right balance between the interests of users of copyright material and those of copyright owners. I hope that hon. Members will agree that the new clauses provide the appropriate and fair balance.

The two new exceptions to copyright proposed in the Bill are intended to deal with problems that visually impaired people encounter when they cannot

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read copyright material. Once amended, the Bill will provide a useful solution to those problems, without unreasonably encroaching on copyright owners' rights.

For the benefit of hon. Members, I shall quickly run through the effects of the new clauses. New clause 1 introduces the one-for-one exception into the copyright law found in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It will not allow anyone to make large numbers of accessible copies of copyright material for visually impaired people. Under the proposed exception, a visually impaired person can have an accessible copy made for personal use only when they have a master copy lawfully in their possession or are lawfully able to use one in, for example, a reference library. A master copy generally requires copyright royalties to go to the copyright owners, who will therefore not be deprived of royalties when a visually impaired person takes advantage of the exception. Indeed, proposed new section 31A(6) provides that if a visually impaired person keeps the accessible copy when he no longer has lawful possession or lawful use of the master copy, the accessible copy becomes an infringing copy of the work.

Another important condition in new clause 1 is that an accessible copy cannot be made for a particular visually impaired person if a version of the work that is accessible to him is already commercially available. We need to encourage copyright owners to make copies of their copyright material available in forms that are accessible to everyone. That would not happen if the exception allowed people to make copies if a perfectly satisfactory one is already commercially available.

In response to a request from right holders, I have accepted that any accessible copies made under this exception should be accompanied by an indication that they are so made. That may at first glance seem unnecessary, but this exception allows accessible copies to be transferred to others in some circumstances, so it is important that everyone knows the origin of the accessible copy and is aware that they are not free to do exactly what they want with it.

The transfer of accessible copies to others is important, because it can be expensive to make an accessible copy, and if there are other visually impaired people who could use it when the initial person no longer needs it, that is a bonus. The exception allows the transfer of the accessible copy to another visually impaired person who would themselves have satisfied all the conditions for making an accessible copy, or to an intermediary such as a school or a library, which can pass on the accessible copy only to such another visually impaired person.

The conditions mean that all those people must have the or a master copy, too, so that there is never an accessible copy where there is not also a legal master copy. As I am sure hon. Members will appreciate, drafting the Bill in order to deliver what I have outlined has been complex. I hope that new clause 1 is clearer. There should be only one accessible

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copy if there is a master copy, too, and it should be for use only by visually impaired people who cannot access any copies that already exist as easily as they could if they were not visually impaired.

New clause 2 allows multiple copies of a master copy to be made by either an educational establishment or a not-for-profit body. However, as with the first exception, there are a number of conditions and limitations. To take advantage of this multiple copy exception, the educational establishment or not-for-profit body must have lawful possession of a master copy of the copyright material. The body can legally make and supply accessible copies to visually impaired people under this exception only so long as it continues to satisfy this condition and remains an educational establishment or not-for-profit body.

Moreover, the master copy must have been commercially published, so although the exception allows the body to make a number of accessible copies of the same material, it does not allow this to happen in competition with copyright owners or others authorised by them to produce certain types of accessible copy such as those using commercial large print.

I do not want to dwell entirely on the limitations of the legislation, because important as they are, the positive side to new clause 2 is that it will give schools and bodies such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind real opportunities for supplying accessible copies of much-needed copyright material to people who currently may not get it. For example, there is not likely to be much commercial activity in the area of braille transcription to fill the need for that service. This exception removes the long delays that can currently occur in obtaining copyright clearances.

As long as the carefully devised but fair conditions are met, the RNIB will no longer find copyright clearances a bar to its valuable transcription services into various alternative formats that meet the real needs of visually impaired people. All hon. Members would wish me to pay tribute to the work of the RNIB.

Ian Stewart (Eccles): I strongly support the Bill, as my hon. Friend knows, but authors' and publishers' associations are concerned about protecting their members' interests.

One concern relates to what is an approved body and on what basis it is held to be so. The associations are worried about the definition, and think that a body should qualify only if it has as its main object or one of its main objects the provision of accessible copies or other services for visually impaired persons. Is my hon. Friend happy that the wording of the new clause responds to those concerns?

Rachel Squire: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. I appreciate the concerns raised by the Publishers Licensing Society and others, but it would be difficult to define precisely a not-for-profit body. If we chose a definition that specified that the main concern and purpose of the body was the production of such material, it would disadvantage many local community groups such as local churches, the local Women's Institute and others. Those organisations are clearly not-for-profit bodies, and

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may have a definite interest in the matter, but would not meet the definition sought by the PLS.

Given the technical safeguards built in to the new clauses in response to concerns expressed by the Publishers Licensing Society, I cannot believe that any genuine not-for-profit body would seek to meet all the requirements in the Bill without having as its prime interest the genuine accessibility of reading material to people with visual impairment. However, if today's proceedings are successful, we may go on to discuss that and other concerns with people who have a clear and rightful interest.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): I draw some comfort from the hon. Lady's remarks and wish the Bill every success. I have no personal axe to grind but, like the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart), I am aware that some with professional interests outside the House wish the Bill well but want to ensure that the copyright technicalities are all carefully handled. This is only the beginning of our deliberations—there will be a Report stage and the Bill will go to another place in due course. I urge the hon. Lady, with all the support I can offer, to ensure that her professional advisers, and she herself, work alongside those with a professional interest and those who wish her Bill well and who want the copyright matters to be dealt with thoroughly, carefully and tightly.

 
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