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Important and good news for UK special collections services and their users.

The UK government has just published the final part of its response to consultations following the Hargreaves review of intellectual property: Modernising copyright: a modern, robust and flexible framework.  While not addressing underlying problems of copyright, the changes outlined allow a wider range of valuable activities to be carried out without permission from copyright holders.  The handy table on Page 16 summarises the changes.  Note in particular that preservation copying of all kinds of material will be allowed (hooray!) and that the research and private study exception will apply to all kinds of material (hooray again!).  The intention is that the relevant legislation will come into force this October.

I’ve only skimmed the response so far – when I’ve read it properly, I’ll have more to say.  For more detail, the posts by Tim Padfield of the National Archives on the archives-nra mailing list are really helpful in keeping up to date.

A couple of interesting points emerge already through social media chat.   The writers of the response appear to think that artistic works are already covered by the current library and archive exception for non-commercial research and private study (see page 5 for instance).  They aren’t – this is one of the most irksome aspects of the said exception and is probably the number one change I would have asked for on behalf of my readers – it will transform the access we can offer to photographs, maps, ephemera etc allowing us to do things in full confidence that we are legally right to do so, rather than being forced to take a risk managed approach as at present.

I was very pleased to see on page 35 that the requirements to seek signed declarations from users may be removed or reduced.  Obtaining and managing these documents is an administrative burden on hard-pressed services; it is also a burden for users, who must spend their valuable research time filling in forms rather than engaging with the collections they have come to see.

Copyright is one of the most difficult aspects of user services in Special Collections, in which over-complicated and outdated laws force staff to frustrate the perfectly reasonable and fair wants of researchers in a digital age.  I hope that the new legislation outlined in the response will enable us to give users what they want without harming copyright holders, via more streamlined, rational and flexible systems.

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