Copyright law catches IT firms off guard

The vast majority of IT businesses are not aware of legal obligations they face under newly implemented EU regulations, which have been compared to the DMCA in scope

The vast majority of UK businesses do not understand new copyright obligations covering Web sites, intranets and even photocopies, according to a survey commissioned by intellectual property law firm Bristows.

The Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003, drafted by the UK's Patent Office, came into force at the end of last month. It the UK's implementation of the controversial European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD), which strengthens copyright protections. The UK adopted what many consider to be Europe's toughest digital copyright law, with the stated aim of protecting a media industry that exports many of its works to overseas audiences.

But 85 percent of British IT companies surveyed by Bristows questioned or were unclear about the new regulations, their aims and how to put them into practice, Bristows said. Despite this lack of clarity about the law's impact, 82 percent of respondents believed their internal copyright guidelines would protect them from unwittingly engaging in copyright infringement.

In fact, the regulations place new limits on privileges which previously allowed individuals and organisations to use copyrighted materials without obtaining a licence or paying a fee, Bristows said. In most cases, using any copyrighted work will now require a licence, the firm advised.

The EUCD has been criticised for mirroring the US' controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which has been employed by rights-holders to limit competition and control the way consumers use copyrighted products.

The UK's Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) found in a recent analysis that most countries were failing to protect researchers, business competition and consumers in their implementations of the directive, while giving full force to measures that criminalise the circumvention of copyright controls. Once the Brussels government has approved a directive, member states are required to implement its provisions in local law.