The government is to introduce exceptions to copyright law that would allow individual users to make copies of copyrighted materials, including e-books, onto "any medium or device" for their own private use, although they would still be prohibited from sharing them.
It also plans to give academic researchers the right to make copies of copyrighted works for their own "computer analysis" - so-called 'data mining'.
The measures are to be introduced as part of the government's review into copyright, sparked by the the Hargreaves Review of IP and Growth, commissioned by the Prime Minister and published in May last year.
The government said it would allow researchers that have lawful access to copyright works the right to make "copies of those works to the extent necessary for their computer analysis". Specially, it states that it would "allow non-commercial researchers to use computers to study published research results and other data without copyright law interfering".
The government stated the proposals would allow "publishers to control access to their computer systems and get paid for the services they provide", but it is unclear how this marries with the right of subscribers to "make copies" for their own use. However, the government said it was "prepared to facilitate discussions between publishers and researchers, both commercial and non-commercial, that will help establish the UK as a world leader in text and data mining techniques and services".
Equally concerning for trade publishers and e-book retailers are the exemptions to be introduced around e-book copying, even though they would not allow a user to lawfully break the DRM on individual files.
Under the proposals, publishers who put Digital Rights Management on e-book files would still be able to prevent copying, but the government would introduce an "appeal provision" that would give the secretary of state the right to take action on the DRM, including compelling the publisher to supply a DRM-free file. Questions have already been raised about the "workability" of this process.
The government has said it would "set out clear criteria that the Secretary of State will take into account in considering an application to override TPM [Technical Protection Measures, otherwise known as DRM], such as the availability of suitable commercial offerings and the impact on business of the decision, in order to support a robust, modern and flexible system of permitted acts." The government also reasoned that copyright holders could charge extra for content that allowed private sharing, citing the music industry where "ripping" of CDs has become acceptable practice.
The government indicated that it also intends to allow "minor acts of copying" in education institutions, without license agreements. It will also seek to allow museums, galleries, libraries and archives to preserve any type of copyright work that is in their permanent collection which cannot readily be replaced - meaning institutions would have the right to make digital files of any books in their collections. Specifically it added that "work could be copied as many times as necessary for the work to be preserved".
Responding to these proposals, Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet said he was pleased that there was evidence that the Government had listened to rights holders, and pointed to its willingness to facilitate further discussions around the issue of 'data-mining'. "We are surprised to see that something promised earlier in the week for the New Year had been published three days later, but we are pleased to see that the Intellectual Property Office has finally recognised copyright as a property right," he said. "The exemptions [around private copying] that are proposed are very narrow, which is good news, but whilst they might work for music CDs, there will be issues around their workability for e-books, which could introduce massive practical problems."
On the provisions that would allow non-commercial researchers to use computers to study published research results, Mollet welcomed the suggested facilitation of discussions on data text mining. He said: "That it is for non-commercial use only is welcome, as it is that users will already need to have the right of access."
He added: "We will have to go away now and spend time assessing the impact. As ever with these things the devil is in the detail, but on broad level there is evidence that the Government has at least listened to some of the case made by the content industries."
Introducing the proposals, business secretary Vince Cable said: "Making the intellectual property framework fit for the 21st century is not only common sense but good business sense. Bringing the law into line with ordinary people’s reasonable expectations will boost respect for copyright, on which our creative industries rely.
"We feel we have struck the right balance between improving the way consumers benefit from copyright works they have legitimately paid for, boosting business opportunities and protecting the rights of creators."
The government will publish draft legislation for technical review in 2013, but the intention is that measures would come into force in October 2013.