Memorandum submitted by the Wales Deaf
On behalf of the Wales Deaf Broadcasting Council,
I am writing to you in your capacity as Chair of the Committee
dealing with the Communications Bill. We would be very grateful
if your Committee examines the lack of a specific Welsh aspect
to the Draft Communications Bill, which has been put out for joint
consultation by the Department of Trade and Industry and DCMS.
The Bill sets out various regulatory changes
to broadcasting and importantly for us, the provision of subtitles
for deaf viewers. Unfortunately the Bill fails to cover one aspect
that relates to TV broadcasting in Wales. Within Wales we have
Welsh language programmes provided by S4C. These are translated
into English deaf-quality subtitles on Text page 888 for hearing-impaired
viewers, though hearing non-Welsh speakers also benefit as a result.
Welsh subtitles are also provided on Text page 889, these being
for the benefit of both deaf Welsh speakers and hearing Welsh
You may not be aware that until quite recently
Welsh language songs and lyrics were rarely subtitled in English,
thus excluding deaf viewers from an important aspect of Welsh
culture. It has emerged since last Autumn that one of the reasons
for this omission is that this runs up against copyright problems.
S4C has informed us that in their opinion subtitling songs (that
is adapting and/or translating the lyrics of songs and other copyright
material) is an act restricted by copyright and that it can only
be done lawfully at present with the permission of the copyright
The situation is neatly outlined is EDM 1387,
a copy of which is attached. This EDM has been signed by Members
of the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, Scottish National Party and
BBC on the other hand is covered by blanket
copyright approval for all English language songs to be subtitled
as no translation is involved. S4C thus operates under a severe
handicap as far as subtitles for deaf viewers are concerned.
We were invited to meet the Patent Office to
discuss subtitles but it was made clear that the Office did not
want to consider legislative changes to cover S4C subtitles, as
they are only concerned with UK-wide copyright legislation and
will not get involved with Welsh/English translation issues. In
addition the Office did not want to process legislation that puts
deaf non-Welsh speakers at an advantage over hearing non-Welsh
speakers. That completely misunderstands the nature of the service
S4C provides. The point about the S4C subtitling service is that
it provides access to programmes both to viewers that are deaf
and to those who are hearing but do not understand Welsh. The
service is equally accessible to any viewer on teletext 888. We
also point out that the S4C digital service is made available
via satellite throughout the UK so this is not about establishing
rules for only a part of the UK.
In view of the negative attitude of the Patent
Office we saw no merit in discussing the S4C copyright problem
with them as the Office refuses to consider any action to remedy
the situation. The draft Communications Bill thus offers the most
likely vehicle to solve this long-standing problem.
In giving one reason for not exempting subtitles
from copyright laws the Government has argued that "Authors
are entitled to object to a translation were it to treat their
creation in a derogatory way." This suggests that those who
subtitle S4C programmes will behave in a less than professional
manner. We have every confidence in the integrity of those who
provide subtitles and we are unable to accept this unfair and
S4C have said that although progress has been
made recently "copyright problems will still be there until
there's some change in Legislation." That is what both S4C
and the Wales DBC are seeking.
Because both Welsh and English languages are
equal in law, we are requesting that your Committee please recommends
to the Department of Trade and Industry, who are leading the consultation,
to ask that a clause be inserted into the draft Bill to allow
oral Welsh to English subtitles, and oral English to Welsh subtitles,
to be exempt from copyright legislation.
It will be unacceptable for the Government merely
"to note" our representations. We in Wales expect action
to overcome the copyright difficulties identified by S4C.
The Disability Rights Commission has supported
our view, which may also have implications for Gaelic Broadcasting
This letter has been prepared in consultation
with S4C and their evidence is attached for information.