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Beatrix Potter and Copyright

Chris JHolland12 April 2016

A recent IPKat blog post pointed out that  contrary to expectations a newly discovered and previously unknown work by Beatrix Potter, Kitty in Boots is still protected by copyright. The author died in December 1943 her published works came out of copyright after 70 years had passed, that is in January 2014. Kitty in Boots on the other hand is an unpublished work and is caught by the rule which keeps a vast number of unpublished works in copyright until 2039 (see previous blog posts explaining the 2039 rule and the recent Free our History campaign to have it changed). The copyright in Potter’s works was left to her publisher and now appear to belong to Penguin.

The 2039 rule is a peculiarity of UK law and is not found in the copyright regime’s of other EU member states, although anomalous differences in copyright duration are quite common. This has prompted organisations representing libraries and archives to lobby for a harmonisation of copyright term as part of the current review of  EU Copyright law. See for example Copyright for Knowledge and also LACA’s London Manifesto.

 

 

 

 

“Free our History” Campaign: Sad News

Chris JHolland30 January 2015

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by the UCL Library) to persuade the UK Government to reform the arcane rules which mean that a very large number of unpublished historical documents remain in copyright until 2039.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.

Free our History Campaign #Catch 2039

Chris JHolland3 November 2014

Did you know that a broad swathe of historically important unpublished works is in copyright until 2039? A campaign has been launched by CILIP, the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) and others to persuade the UK Government to press ahead with a small but significant change to the copyright term for unpublished works.

Once the copyright term for these work is reduced to the standard (and more reasonable) author’s lifetime plus 70 years, then museums, libraries and archives will have greater freedom to display and reproduce the unpublished works they hold. The more historical items will come out of copyright immediately. (See the previous blog post of 21 August 2014 for more background).

UCL Library supports the Free our History Campaign and would encourage colleagues in the cultural and educational sector to add their voices. There is a petition to sign on the CILIP web pages Libraries and museums can also participate by  displaying a “blank page” in place of a significant unpublished work they would like to exhibit but are prevented from doing so by the current copyright term for these works.