Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill

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Rachel Squire: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support and for his excellent remarks. I hope that, during the passage of the Bill, we continue to work in close co-operation and partnership on a cross-party basis and with all the voluntary bodies and professional organisations that have such a clear interest in the Bill. I hope that thereby we may reach a fair balance between our desire to give more equal opportunities to people with visual impairment to gain access to reading material and the need to safeguard the rights and interests of publishers, authors and others involved in such business.

Mr. Taylor: I am much obliged.

10.45 am

Rachel Squire: Thank you.

I must speed on and say a little more about the other new clauses to explain why I believe that clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill.

New clause 3 would introduce a new section into the 1988 Act about intermediate copies and records in connection with multiple accessible copies that can be made under the new exception introduced by new clause 2. That would mean that an intermediate copy that was necessarily created during the production of accessible copies could be used, but only to produce further accessible copies in future. An intermediate copy that includes the right codes to facilitate the making of a braille copy may be expensive to produce, so the provision introduces a valuable way of saving money. Moreover, intermediate copies may be transferred to other bodies entitled to make accessible copies under the exception. However, there are conditions and safeguards, so this is far from being a free-for-all exchange of intermediate copies and must

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be carefully handled, if bodies want to avoid infringing copyright.

Importantly, the clause also requires bodies acting under the second exception to keep careful records of what they have done with accessible copies and intermediate copies, and requires them to allow copyright owners reasonable access to inspect them. That addition to the Bill was requested by copyright owners. Bodies acting under the second exception must notify copyright owners of accessible copies made and intermediate copies transferred. Once again, the new clause provides valuable permissions for bodies wishing to help visually impaired people, while at the same time clearly defining the limits and necessary safeguards.

I have already mentioned that it would not be right for accessible copies to be made under the new exceptions where that would compete with commercially available accessible copies. It is also unfair to prevent copyright owners from licensing the production of multiple accessible copies and seeking a royalty for the use of their property. New clause 4 introduces a new section into the 1988 Act that would provide for the second exception to be overridden where a licensing scheme allows the making of particular accessible copies. However, there is no override for the first new exception to copyright—the one-for-one exception—only for the second exception, which allows multiple accessible copies. Moreover, there should be no delay in obtaining licences because they must be offered under a licensing scheme that has already been set up. A licensing scheme cannot generally prohibit anything that would have been possible under the second copyright exception. That formulation should be fair to all.

New clause 5 introduces a new section into copyright law allowing the Secretary of State to limit the scope of the second new exception to copyright, although it can have no effect on the first new exception, and I very much hope that it will never have to be used. If bodies that make accessible copies for visually impaired people behave responsibly and pay attention to what they are and are not allowed to do, the Secretary of State will have no cause to take any action. However, the new section will serve as a reminder of the need to continue to behave responsibly and of the possibility that something could be done to limit future copyright-infringing activity. It should considerably reassure copyright holders.

The Secretary of State's powers have been carefully drafted in response to some of the concerns that were raised on Second Reading. I hope that the Committee agrees that new clause 5 addresses some of those concerns. It provides that those representing affected interests should be consulted before the Secretary of State makes an order.

New clause 6 inserts a definitions clause into the 1988 Act. That is important for all who have a genuine interest. As well as helping people who are blind or partially sighted, I am pleased that the Bill will help those with physical disabilities that prevent them from holding books or from moving or focusing their eyes

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normally. Another important definition is of ''accessible copy''. It is made clear that such copies must not include changes that were not necessary to overcome problems caused by visual impairment. Moreover, it is not possible to make an accessible copy that infringes the author's right that the copyright work should not be subjected to derogatory treatment. Those definitions apply to both new exceptions to copyright, and, together with the other provisions that I have mentioned, they will provide a carefully balanced Bill that will give tremendous assistance to visually impaired people, while being fair to copyright owners.

New clause 7 merely makes consequential amendments to the 1988 Act.

I hope that all hon. Members will be reassured that what I propose will give visually impaired people greater and equal access to reading material—and no less so than the original Bill—but that the new clauses take on board some of the concerns that have been expressed. I hope that what I propose will ensure a fair balance between our desire to give equality of access to reading material to visually impaired people and the need to strengthen and build in safeguards to protect the rights of copyright owners. I hope that the Committee will agree that clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Boswell: First, I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Cook. It is not the first time that I have worked under your chairmanship and, apart from occasions when a Committee sat late at night or into the early hours, I have always enjoyed it. I congratulate the hon. Lady on the way in which she introduced her new clauses. In effect, they rewrite the Bill, but in entirely the right spirit. I hope that that spirit will continue. It is not my intention, either formally from the Opposition Front Bench or personally, to alter the tone of the Committee.

The Bill is a thoroughly constructed measure that is designed to deal with the practical difficulties that beset visually impaired people and the totally blind because of the difficulty of obtaining consent for making copies. It provides a smoother procedure. Although it was always possible to obtain such consent by voluntary agreement, the Bill is necessary because in certain cases and for various reasons—for example, reasons of personality, or of administrative efficiency or otherwise—it was not always delivered in a sensible time scale. That is the ill to which the Bill is directed, and we certainly have no wish to rubbish it.

I have consulted representatives of rights holders. I looked them straight in the eye and suggested that they, too, would not wish to scupper the Bill or to create artificial difficulties. I hope that we can proceed briskly, even with the entirely proper reservation voiced by the hon. Member for Eccles and the more generic comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) ringing in our ears. We want to get it right.

The Bill's promoter and the Minister—whom I am pleased to see and who has, no doubt, been giving

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appropriate assistance—have got us a great deal further forward. We welcome the proposed deletion of clause 1 and the proposal to insert new clauses that rephrase the concepts of the Bill. I shall not seek to divide the Committee on the motion.

I have one further general point. Committee members will be aware that, on behalf of my party and personally, I do a lot of work with several organisations that work in the disability field. We are all grateful to the RNIB for its support in both identifying the need for the Bill and trying to address rights holders' difficulties. The Bill is not contentious, so it is incumbent on the Committee to ensure that any wrinkles that remain are considered and ironed out. My remarks are made solely in that spirit, and it is important that wherever possible we act in a transparent fashion and by agreement. I do not anticipate any difficulty between the RNIB, rights holders' organisations, and individual rights holders. Everybody understands that there is a need.

An argument has been put to me—it cannot be tied down in a complex clause such as the ones we are considering, but it is important—about what we might describe as code of practice or good practice territory. It relates to the need to respect wherever possible an author's wishes regarding not only the words, but the layout of the work—the way in which it is expressed. That is particularly relevant to poetry, which is the one area of literature in which I have dabbled. I shall not upset the Committee by sharing any of my poems—

Mr. John Taylor: Shame.

Mr. Boswell: I shall not yield to that temptation, but I shall quote an exquisite four-word poem by Ezra Pound. I do not quote it for any elaborate literary reason; it is simply short enough to stick in my mind. Pound wrote it as an example of a Greek fragment interpreted in the 20th century by a modern poet. It goes ''Spring. . . Too long . . . Gongula''. Gongula is a proper name. Pound obviously put a lot of thought into it, and he wanted it the way it is. I realise, as does the RNIB and everybody else, that it is difficult to reproduce in practice.

My general point, which I make in a friendly way, is that wherever possible it is best that the rights holders or their organisations—representing authors, for example—and those who are using the property entirely legitimately get together to arrive at a sensible understanding. Whatever the law states, as the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West has properly acknowledged, keeping good records and making them available to rights holders and so on enables the spirit of the law as well as its substance to be complied with. That conforms with the spirit of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull.

I have four comments to make about matters that need to be tidied up between now and the end of parliamentary consideration of the Bill. The first, which has been touched on by the hon. Member for Eccles, relates to the definition of approved bodies. New clause 2 would insert a new section 31B into the 1988 Act. Subsection (12) contains a definition of an approved body as an

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    ''educational establishment or a body that is not conducted for profit.''

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West has already said that it would be difficult to tie down further what a body ''not conducted for profit'' might be. Rights holders are concerned because they are accustomed to dealing with the RNIB or the major disability charities. That is straightforward and entirely uncontentious. However, when a smaller body that may not have the administrative or legal back-up becomes involved, the protection may be attenuated.

Conceptually, the drafting is rather strange, with an approved body classed as

    ''an educational establishment or a body not conducted for profit''.

There is no reference to the basis on which any approval is given, so the lawyers would call the drafting a term of art. If it is not already apparent to the Committee, I declare that I am not a lawyer or an expert in copyright.

11 am

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