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Duty To Provide Advance Information About Programmes

Volume 178: debated on Friday 12 October 1990

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Lords amendment: No. 399, in page 127, line 43, leave out ("schedules of and other")

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this we may take Lords amendments Nos. 400 to 406, 641 to 649 and 675.

The substantive amendments relate to the extent of the information that broadcasters will have to make available and to the timing of the release of that information. Lords amendment No. 401, in most people's view, is the lead amendment in the group. It requires broadcasters to make information available at such a time as a publisher "reasonably requires it" and to make it available to all publishers simultaneously. However, broadcasters will not be required to make available a complete schedule for any one-week period more than 14 days before the first day of that week. The 14-day limit can be varied by order.

Concern was expressed in Committee that some organisations with both television and newspaper interests might want to take some competitive advantage by getting hold of somebody else's schedule and then rescheduling their own programmes to meet it. The 14-day period is the lowest possible lead time for a weekly magazine for the public dealing with listings on a week-long basis. It is a tight but fair target, which will protect the broadcasters' interests and, at the same time, allow a long overdue reform—the opportunity for freely available information about programme listings subject, of course, to proper negotiations about a payment for copyrighted material.

I am sure that the Minister will be able to clear up a couple of small points, especially as the letter of which I have a copy was sent from his office. Will he confirm that there is no obligation on broadcasters to supply television listings information about programmes that are scheduled to be broadcast before 1 March 1991?

I am glad that the Minister is able to do that.

The second point has also been raised with the Minister's office. Negotiations between the copyright holders of the listings can open from 1 January, although the listings cannot be published until after the first programme is running after 1 March. There are fears that not only rogue publishers, but French, Italian and German publishers with a big interest in this market may be tempted to jump the gun in the initial two months. If that happened, and in the absence of an agreement, what would be the position of the holders of the copyright?

Those of us who were members of the Committee will remember that there was great excitement about the next point. During the last sitting, the Minister found a relevant piece of paper in his red Dispatch Box to enable him to make some moves on listings. The House will he interested to know that Independent Television Publications Limited, which bought and holds the copyright to the ITV programmes, has made it clear that the proposal meets an expressed wish of Mr. Tony Elliott ofTime Out. ITP has decided to make the information available to publishers free of charge once an initial licence fee has been established and the publisher has been registered as a licensed user. That is a bold and sensible move.

I hope that the Minister can clarify the points that I have raised.

My right hon. and learned Friend is aware of my appreciation of the way in which he has carried out the negotiations on this difficult matter and balanced the interests of publishers and copyright owners.

I believe that the House has now got it about right, but there are still some lingering fears among copyright owners, such as IPC Magazines, that the negotiations between themselves and publishers might be protracted and difficult. They believe that there might be a temptation on behalf of would-be publishers to try to delay settlement of the negotiations so as to obtain an unfair advantage from them. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend has been in receipt of correspondence on this matter this week from IPC Magazines. It would be helpful if he could reassure those who have written to him to express their concern.

Once a copyright tribunal is established, such negotiations between copyright owners and publishers will be settled. It is inevitable that that tribunal would make a judgment on the responsible handling of the negotiations by the interested parties. The negotiations, however, might be protracted and it is possible that the copyright owners will suffer a considerable commercial disadvantage. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to reassure them.

The Minister will be aware that I share the concern that has already been expressed. I took an initiative on this matter earlier in our proceedings, and I am grateful to the Minister for his response then.

I agree with the first proposition advanced by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). The hon. Gentleman also expressed concern about people jumping the gun, but the situation is exactly the same as it would be if somebody purported to publish a rival magazine now. A copyright owner has a legal remedy, which includes an injunction against publishers, distributors and so on, to protect his interests. I cannot precisely anticipate the relief the courts would give, but protection does not run out until the statutory arrangements come into force. Until that time, copyright owners are protected.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) recognises that I have gone to some trouble to try to resolve differences with copyright owners. We do not want litigation to arise from this. We want to move into another era, amicably if possible. I am glad to say that, by and large, that has been achieved. I am grateful to John Mellon of IPC Magazines for his positive approach to the negotiations. We are keen to respond to the issues he raised.

On unnecessarily protracted proceedings, it is true that we decided, on Report, to delete the provision in what was schedule 15 that would have allowed the copyright tribunal to award costs against any publisher who, in exercising his statutory right to publish, fixed the fee at less than a reasonable cost. We thought that a provision to this effect in the Bill was unnecessary, since the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 already contained such a provision. We therefore decided that that in the Bill did not have any practical significance.

My noble Friend the Earl Ferrers made some other remarks about timing, which are reported in theOfficial Report of the other place. Although I believe that the timing is tight, there will be enough time for the necessary negotiating procedures because there will be an incentive for everyone to make the negotiations effective. Although I appreciate that there is two months between the negotiations and their implementation, the only alternative would have been to delay the start of the statutory arrangements until after 1 March. That would not have been justified, having regard to the pressure that has existed for a long time to remedy the situation.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.