You may remember the libraries and archives campaign (supported by the UCL Library) to persuade the UK Government to reform the arcane rules which mean that a very large number of unpublished historical documents remain in copyright until 2039. The Government launched a consultation exercise on 31st October last year to gather views on its proposal to change this aspect of copyright legislation. See previous blog posts on 21st August 2014 and 3rd November 2014. More information on the issues is available in a Briefing from the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA)
The 2039 rule causes many issues for cultural institutions wishing to improve access to historically interesting material. It also swells the ranks of Orphan Works (works in copyright whose rights owners cannot be identified or located) and also keeps UK copyright law out of step with the rest of the EU. The response from the cultural sector, including libraries and archives was very eloquent and persuasive in its arguments for the Government’s reform proposal.
Unfortunately, not persuasive enough for the Government, which has decided not to make the necessary changes at this time, see the Government Response to the Consultation. It was thought that the problems posed by removing the ownership of copyright from those who would otherwise continue to own rights in the material until 2039 were too great.
The Government was concerned that it would face challenges under Human Rights legislation for removing property from its owners. To be fair, they have not ruled out change in the future, it is rather the case that they cannot find an acceptable way of achieving the legislative changes at the moment.
Part of the problem is of course that for a large part of the “2039 material”, although it is in copyright, the ownership is far from clear, so the owners are unlikely to draw any benefit from their intellectual property and in that sense would not be losing out. However, some of those rights owners who are aware that they own “2039 material” argued strongly against the Government’s proposals.