European Copyright Directive

What’s the European Copyright Directive?

The European Copyright Directive (‘EUCD’) is a silly piece of legislation, driven entirely by lobbying on the part of large content producers and “intellectual property” lawyers, which imposes draconian restrictions on personal freedoms, backed by unsubstantiated “needs” to “protect” content such as films and music on the Internet and other digital media. (N.B. I am not opposed to intellectual protection)

The unwieldy document makes for depressing reading if only because of how out-of-touch and easily-influenced the legislators responsible for it were. Highlights include making it illegal to basically do anything whatsoever with music or videos that the producers don’t like, even if what you want to do is entirely reasonable (to any normal person). It’s illegal to manufacture things like multi-region DVD players and console mod-chips, and worst of all, it’s a crime to even discuss how to get around stupid restrictions placed on content.

What happened in the UK?

As with all European Directives no matter how stupid, EU member states had to implement the EUCD. In Britain, the self-serving UK Patent Office (as it was known at the time) had to come up with a workable implementation in the UK. They came up with a consultation proposing changes to copyright law which was neatly (and accurately) summarised in the words of an organisation known at the time as STAND:

  • Media corporations can put any restriction they like on how you access their intellectual property.
  • If you break that restriction, they can sue you. If you tell anyone else how to break it, you can go to jail.
  • If you want to break it because of the rights that belong to you under copyright law, you should write to the Secretary of State personally and ask permission.
  • Once she’s said yes, you may freely use that ink marker to fix that crippled CD so that they can finally play on your home computer.
  • But don’t tell anyone else how you did it (see 3. above, re: jail).
  • Bear in mind in all this that UK copyright laws are already pretty restrictive; as they stand, they fail even to allow many perfectly reasonable uses of copyright material, such as copying a CD (which you bought legitimately) onto a tape to listen to in the car or a portable tape player. I, amongst others, share the view that we really ought to bring the existing laws up to date and reintroduce the concept of ‘reasonableness’ before we even consider enacting new amendments that impose substantial new restrictions.

    What did I do about it?

    I wrote a a lengthy response and had various correspondence with my MP, the DTI and the Patent Office. You can see a timeline and copies of all correspondence sent and received.

    What did other people do about it?

    Many other people wrote to the Patent Office objecting to the proposals. So many, in fact, that the deadline for implementation of 22 December 2002 passed, and the Patent Office admitted they were overwhelmed. All but two member states of the EU also failed to implement the EUCD by the deadline – a testament to the problems associated with this legislation.

    Unfortunately, the law was eventually implemented – and remains on the statute books.