The world was a different place in 1988. The Soviet Union was still in existence, the Berlin Wall hadn’t yet fallen, the only Star Wars being discussed was President Reagan’s anti‑missile shield and the internet was still a twinkle in Tim Bernard-Lee’s eye. It was also the year that the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988 gained Royal Assent. This piece of statute (with some amendments) has been the key piece of Intellectual Property (“IP”) legislation in England and Wales for the last 30 years.
It’s no surprise that given the huge leaps in technology which have happened since then that a lot of people feel that IP law has not moved with the times. The freedom to access the internet and the ease with which content can be published has created scenarios that could not have been envisaged back in 1988 and, as with any situation, there are always those who seek to benefit or profit from it.
In what is arguably the largest shake up in copyright law, MEPs will be voting (or have already voted depending on when this article is read) on whether or not the Copyright Directive will come into law.
What is the impact of the Copyright Directive? Well there are numerous Articles it seeks to bring in but, in short, it looks to tighten up copyright protection and it also seeks to reward the creators of content by forcing websites to: (a) ensure that something called a “link tax” is paid (which, in very basic terms, is a licence fee for every time an article is linked by another website), and, secondly, (b) police any content that is posted on the website.
This creates a number of logistical issues – firstly, in the collection of any of the aforementioned “link tax”, such as who will pay it, how it will be collected etc, and, secondly, because websites will be forced to use artificial intelligence to police their websites. Critics (such as Wikipedia) state that this will result in huge swathes of information disappearing from the internet and, specifically, perhaps melodramatically, has been referred to as the death of memes, gifs and other similar modern day internet eccentricities.
Whatever the outcome of the vote, even if unsuccessful at this point in time, it is fair to say that IP law needs to adjust to the internet age, which means that businesses need to stay savvy and up to date with these changes.