Copyright Exceptions in the UK

The UK government has announced its plans to widen the scope of copyright exceptions in its law, to allow the public to copy more works without the need to acquire the permission of the author.
The copyright law is not meant to provide authors with an absolute right over their creations, but it aims to provide them with sufficient rights so they have an incentive to create new works, and have these rights balanced against society’s right for fair access to these works.

A lot of people around the world believe that copyright law has lost touch with the reality of how the public consumes copyright works. However, due to the influence major corporations have over many of the legislative systems around the world, the copyright law has continued attempting to impose more and more restrictions on how copyright works can be used by the public, even if these rights are rarely respected.

In a move uncommon nowadays, the UK government has announced that it plans to issue a new legislation that will reduce the scope of protection of copyright law. This will provide users with more rights for using some copyright works, without the need to acquire the prior permission of the owner of the copyright.

The UK copyright law already has some exceptions to copyright protection, such as those that allow users to copy some works for criticism and review, and those that allow copying for the purpose of private non-commercial research.

The new copyright exceptions to be introduced by the UK will allow copying for a number of different purposes. One of these exceptions will allow the owner of a legitimate copy of copyright work to make additional copies of that work, to be able to use the work on a different device.

Another exception will allow copying a work to create a parody or caricature. Some of the new exceptions will expand the scope of existing rights such as the exception for private study and research and the exception for reporting news and current events.

Some of the ‘soon to be legal’ acts emphasise how ridiculous the copyright law currently is in some instances, such as the fact that an explicit exception has to be included in the law to allow a user to rip off music from a CD he legally bought, to play that music on a portable music player. Creating such a copy without permission from the author is technically an infringement of the current copyright law, even though nobody ever got prosecuted for it.

The introduction of these new exceptions is a positive move for the development of copyright law in the UK, but it will not solve many of the other more serious problems with the copyright law. These include the fact that protection is granted automatically to all works created by anyone, regardless of whether or not the author desires to have that protection, the fact that the protection lasts for an unreasonable amount of time, and the unnecessary and ineffective protection of technological protection measures applied to copyright works.

It is also worth noting that legislative changes to the UK copyright law will still not provide the UK with a general copyright exception similar to the fair use principle found in the US. The US fair use exception is a general exception that allows the judge to look at the nature of the copying instance and then decide, based on its facts, whether or not the usage is fair. The UK exceptions will not allow the judge to excuse an instance of copying, even if it is fair, if that specific use is not explicitly mentioned in the law.

Even with all the limitations of the soon to be introduced exceptions in the UK, the fact that copyright law is being changed to become less restrictive is a good development for copyright law. Unfortunately, the law in Oman is similar to the UK in its restrictive nature and does not, in fact, still allow for many of these exceptions proposed by the UK government. It would be helpful if we can learn from their experience when we consider updating the law here.


Status of Voip Remains Uncertain in Oman

Eight months have passed since the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) has decided to unblock many of the Voice over IP (VoIP) services widely available on the Internet, but Skype still remains blocked with no official statement clarifying the current status of VoIP in Oman.

VoIP is not technically a banned service in Oman, but the TRA requires any company that wishes to provide such a service in the country to apply for a licence from the TRA and abide by all the rules and regulations of the telecom law. There are some companies which are licensed by the TRA to provide VoIP service in Oman, such as Nawras, which provides a number of dial-in services for making VoIP calls to certain countries.

The TRA had traditionally blocked all forms of VoIP services from being accessed by users of the Internet in Oman. The most famous of these services is Skype. The TRA argues that it will not allow Skype to operate without acquiring a license in Oman to protect many public interests such as the protection of consumers, the support of the employment of Omanis, the collection of tax and the enforcement of the state security requirements.

These justifications cannot be taken seriously because the same arguments can be made against all other forms of online businesses and communication tools, such as Amazon or Gmail, but nothing other than VoIP had been categorically blocked. It is widely believed that the decision to block Skype has been made to protect the financial interests of local ISPs who make a lot of profits by charging their users for international phone calls.

Earlier this year, the TRA ordered telecom companies to unblock certain VoIP services such as Viber, Google Talk, FaceTime, and others, but not Skype. There was no legal change in the regulation of VoIP in Oman, and the TRA has not made any official statement as to why it has chosen to unblock these specific services.

Rumour has it that the TRA is considering removing the technical restrictions for blocking access to VoIP operated by foreign companies and that it is testing the impact of the allowed services before unlocking everything else. However, more than half a year has passed now and an official statement is yet to be seen.

The topic of VoIP regulation has recently come back to the forefront as Microsoft has decided to discontinue its Live Messenger and integrate the chat functionality of it in Skype. Live Messenger is a popular application in Oman and the inability of people to communicate with their work partners, family and friends using Messenger could be an issue to these people.

The TRA needs to make up its mind on the VoIP matter. Many parents now rely on Viber to communicate with their children who are studying abroad. It is also not unlikely for some small and medium enterprises to consider using the currently available VoIP services to facilitate their business operations. Having these services blocked again can easily devastate many.