British Library voices concerns over copyright law

November 2006

Record labels

The British Library has voiced concerns that UK copyright law prevents the Library retaining archive copies of recorded music and other sound recordings. In a statement the Library said ‘currently the law does not permit copying of sound and film items for preservation … without the right to make copies, the UK is losing a large part of its recorded culture.’ ‘Many original audio and film formats we hold are becoming increasingly more fragile and the statement added that such formats could ‘face irretrievable decay.’ Sections 37 – 45 of the CopyrightDesigns & Patents Act 1988 currently provides that “ the librarian of a prescribed library may, if the prescribed conditions are complied with, make and supply from a published edition a copy of part of a literary, dramatic or musical work [i.e. not sound recordings] … without infringing any copyright in the work, in any illustrations accompanying the work or in the typographical arrangement”. S61 provides that folk songs may be recorded for archive purposes without infringing the copyright in the music or lyrics. Words in italics added.

The British Library are asking for are a number of revisions to UK copyrights law:

  • Existing limitations and exceptions to copyright law should be extended to encompass unambiguously the digital environment;
  • Licenses providing access to digital material should not undermine longstanding limitations and exceptions such as ‘fair dealing’
  • The right to copy material for preservation purposes – a core duty of all national libraries – should be extended to all copyrightable works;
  • The copyright term for sound recordings should not be extended without empirical evidence of the benefits and due consideration of the needs of society as a whole;
  • The US model for dealing with ‘orphan works’ should be considered for the UK;
  • The length of copyright term for unpublished works should be brought into line with other terms (ie: life plus 70 years).

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