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Schools: Copyright Exemption

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 12 July 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on authors of a copyright exemption for schools; and whether they plan to put in place any safeguards to protect authors’ incomes.

My Lords, the Government’s recent consultation on copyright explored a number of options to update the current exceptions to copyright provided for educational establishments. None of the options considered has proposed a copyright exemption for schools. We are clear that any changes to the current exceptions should clarify the position for teachers but must not undermine the important incentives to creators of new works.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. I understand that the situation is still fluid and that decisions have not yet been made. That is why it is important to raise the issue at this time because in the autumn there will be a substantial opening up of the UK’s copyright exemption regime that is estimated to cost the writers of this country something like £12 million. Are the Government aware that where such exemptions exist in the vast majority of European countries, they are balanced by a fair compensation scheme which provides remuneration for authors? The Government’s own consultation paper states that,

“there is a danger that going too far will undermine the financial incentives that encourage the creation of new educational works”.

Will the Government bear in mind those words?

The noble Baroness was kind enough to give me an outline of what this Question was likely to be about. I know that there have been worries among writers, specifically of textbooks, who are people who do not make a great deal of money out of doing things. It is nothing to do with the fact that we do not want them to carry on writing. We absolutely want them to carry on writing these textbooks. I am delighted to reassure the noble Baroness that the Government have not proposed a copyright exemption for schools. They will still have to pay for their licences. The last thing we want is for writers to stop writing. If they keep writing, they will keep getting their money.

My Lords, does my noble friend realise that, reassuring as her first Answer was, Clause 56 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is now at the other end, has caused a great deal of anxiety, not only to authors but to composers, musicians and others who depend on copyright for their living? Does my noble friend agree with the advice that has been given to the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society by the Intellectual Property Office that the clause has been introduced not in order to implement the exceptions suggested in the Hargreaves report? Should it not be made clear in the Bill that the new powers should be solely in the context of restricting the operation of the copyright exceptions?

My noble friend hits on a point that is absolutely right. In the other place at the moment, my honourable friend Norman Lamb is struggling with Clause 56, trying to clarify it and explain to people that they are worrying unnecessarily. The truth is that we know all about the questions that have been raised on this. As I look around today, I see people who represent those great societies. By the time the Bill gets here, I am absolutely sure that things will be clear. In the mean time, I am happy to write to my noble friend to give him clarification.

My Lords, I declare an interest as I receive tiny sums twice a year from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society. Does the noble Baroness accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, said, if in consequence of Clause 56 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill being enacted, the Government removed the requirement for schools, colleges and universities to have a licence in order to copy, it would take away £12 million per year in secondary royalties currently paid to writers and £15 million a year that goes to publishers? Is the noble Baroness further aware that if this were activated, high-profile writers such as Philip Pullman and others have said that they would seriously have to reconsider writing for schools?

I am very much aware of all the points that the noble Lord has made. Norman Lamb, my colleague in the other place, is also aware because those discussions are going on at this time. We must remember that the Hargreaves report was directly commissioned by the Prime Minister himself. He wanted to know whether we have an intellectual property office and system that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. We have laws that we cannot enforce and technology is leaping ahead at enormous speed. However, noble Lords can be absolutely sure that we want to do nothing that will impede people earning a living. We are looking for everybody to make as much money as they can at the moment because we have hardly anything left in the coffers.

My Lords, I draw attention to my declaration of interest, as set out in the register. Will the Minister confirm that copyright lies at the heart of the creative industries, which are so crucial to the economic success and cultural well-being of this country? If she confirms that, will she explain why the Government propose, in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, to make important changes to copyright through secondary legislation rather than through the primary legislative process that would give this important issue the full scrutiny that it deserves?

This will all be discussed during proceedings on the Bill, which is in the other place at the moment. Of course it is important; that is why we have taken so much time to make sure that we get opinions from everybody, particularly on copyright. We know how important it is. We have other voices to listen to as well, including those of consumers and teachers. The original Question was about how teachers could get things on to boards when it is illegal to write something that is in copyright on a whiteboard in this country. It is a very complicated subject, as the noble Lord well knows. However, I am delighted that he still makes his living from writing.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of copyright exceptions for schools on the ability of bespoke educational publishers, particularly providers of specialist music education material, to continue to develop exceptional international products? I declare an interest as a writer of educational works.

I can only repeat again that nothing is under threat at the moment, certainly when it comes to schools. We are looking for teachers to take up the licences as they should but, at the same time, to be able to use the facilities that they have. At the moment, the law states that you can write something only on a blackboard—now called a chalkboard—although only 1% of boards in this country are blackboards. The whole law is a wreck as far as this is concerned. I can reassure noble Lords that nobody is taking away anyone’s living but we want teachers to have enough time to teach children. That is what they are there for.