Today’s Daily Telegraph carries a letter calling on Vince Cable to review the copyright laws, to protect parody and satire. It is co-signed by our President Maureen Freely for English PEN.
SIR – The British sense of humour is famous around the world. Anyone who has watched Prime Minister’s Questions can see that even our MPs are funny – occasionally intentionally.
Satire is a vital tool for campaigning organisations to create debate, expose hypocrisy and change opinion. However, the importance of parody in public debate is not recognised in copyright law. This omission has led to the removal of material that is undoubtedly in the public interest – such as Greenpeace films taken down from YouTube.
Since 2005, two governments have run reviews on copyright, both of which said that there should be a copyright exception to allow parody.
We now have less than a week for the Government to commit to a vote. If it doesn’t, the opportunity to change the law may be postponed until after the next election. That isn’t funny. We call upon Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and Lord Younger, the minister for intellectual property, to act now and ensure that an exception to copyright for parody is put into law.
In his review of copyright published in 2011, Professor Ian Hargraves recommended that copying should be lawful where it is for private purposes, or does not damage the underlying aims of copyright:
The UK has chosen not to exercise all of its rights under EU law to permit individuals to shift the format of a piece of music or video for personal use and to make use of copyright material in parody. Nor does the UK allow its great libraries to archive all digital copyright material, with the result that much of it is rotting away. Taking advantage of these EU sanctioned exceptions will bring important cultural as well as economic benefits to the UK. Together, they will help to make copyright law better understood and more acceptable to the public. In addition, there should be a change in rules to enable scientific and other researchers to use modern text and data mining techniques, which copyright prohibits.