Copyright for politicans and slates

Simon McGarr writes (also here) about the copyright issues relating to the use of Oireachtas (parliamentary) footage in satire (disclaimer: I contributed some (basic) ideas to this article). It’s a good read, and builds on some ongoing ideas that Simon, Fergal Crehan and others have been working on. To me, it’s a situation where there should (in principle) be no legal obstacle, but working through the various legal devices (standing orders, terms and conditions, copyright restrictions) is quite time-consuming. I hope they succeed; we desperately need political satire that goes beyond the tiresome mimic-and-repeat that Today FM has been dining out on for the last ten (or so?) years.

As a reminder of the long arm of modern copyright law, the Register reports on breach of copyright through forwarding an email. Although the headline reads:

Emails can infringe copyright, ruling

the judgement itself opens with a much less dramatic:

This is a dispute about fibre-cement roof slates.

And they say poetry is dead.

Anyway, despite the headline, this case is not about email in the slightest, but simply a reminder of how low the bar for ‘originality’ is (and indeed, 200 or so paragraphs are about slates, and 10 about copyright!). The judge finds that a particular business letter was “an original literary work” because it “involve(d) a substantial degree of independent skill and labour“. It’s a traditional sweat-of-the-brow approach. If you are troubled by this idea, as I am, you should read Carys Craig’s helpful article (PDF) on how the Canadian Supreme Court rebalanced the test for originality in CCH v Law Society. Indeed, the shift towards a greater sensitivity to the ‘public interest’, based at least in part on free-flow-of-information ideas, is perhaps a useful way to connect the originality debate with issues of email and the Web. However, in general it should be noted that this particular English judge was applying existing law, and made no comments about law reform or technology or anything of the sort.

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