Digital Economy Bill: Lords Want Rights To Link, Format-Shift

Conservative Lord Ralph Lucas is using the Digital Economy Bill to wade in to the debate over whether aggregators can freely link to online newspaper material.

He has tabled an amendment guaranteeting “Protection of the right to link to publicly available information on the internet”, which states: “The creation, aggregation, copying and publication of any link to publicly available information contained on websites on the internet shall not constitute an infringement of copyright.”

It seems designed to get off the hook news monitoring aggregators like Meltwater and NewsNow, who oppose a new license the Newspaper Licensing Agency is requiring from any aggregators which copy online articles in order to provide commercial clients with links to stories.

NewsNow is complying with the license by opting not to include NLA members’ material in its commercial service but has been blocked from crawling whole News International sites and and is publicly campaigning for its Right2Link. But Meltwater is playing hardball and has taken the NLA to the UK Copyright Tribunal for a ruling.

Lord Lucas’ amendment would write in to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 that: “Links incorporating or accompanied by minimal reproduction of contents in the form of insubstantial extracts shall not constitute an infringement of copyright.” Though the likes of NewsNow may choose to use this as a defence, in fact it would justify use of excerpts at the point of publication, and not copying of full text during story processing (NewsNow’s quandary is the latter).

Legalise format shifting (#285): Separately, Lucas is also proposing to amend the act such that: “Where a person acquires the right to use a copyright work in electronic form for his personal use, he also acquires the right to copy that work into other electronic formats for his personal use.” Intellectual Property Office minister Lord Triesmann recommended legalising format-shifting back in 2008, though many content owners want paying for such copying; for example; through a levy on copying devices that exists in many European states though not the UK.

Equity-for-rights extension (#290): Another Lucas amendment would seem to give cash from services like Spotify to musicians whose labels have taken equity: “Where a copyright owner of a work in electronic form sells or licenses all or part of that copyright in exchange for equity or any other interest in another company or business, the original artist or any person who would have been entitled to share in the cash proceeds from the sale or licensing of the copyright, shall equally be entitled to share in any security or business for which the copyright interest is exchanged or licensed.”

Unlimited search exemption (#292): Lucas is trying to reintroduce his earlier proposal that: “Every provider of a publicly accessible website shall be presumed to give a standing and non-exclusive license to providers of search engine services to make a copy of some or all of the content of that website, for the purpose only of providing said search engine services.” That would exempt Google (NSDQ: GOOG) from any publishers’ claims it’s copying their stories without permission.

More defined game rules (#246): Three lords and a baroness are proposing specific language (the filthiest I’ve ever seen in a government bill) to bring more video games under classification by the Video Recordings Act. This would include games depicting “racist, homophobic or other discriminatory language”, “graphic torture” and “anus, breasts or buttocks”.

Tighter VOD porn rules (#251b): Baroness Howe proves her acquaintance with online pornography by proposing an amendment that would compel “online on-demand programme services” to introduce age verification for any material “which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of 18”. She uses a litany of specific acts that would be covered. The regs would apply not just to out-and-out porn sites but to any broadcasters’ sites whose shows include the same acts.

List for copyrighted material (#284): Lucas is trying again on his amendment that would mean “Ofcom shall maintain on the web a registry of other websites where copyright material may be located” – a proposal many will consider ridiculously onerous on a regulator that may be downsized in the coming year.

The amendments will be either accepted, rejected or withdrawn in a Lords committee hearing on Tuesday Monday.