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Will squatters' rights prevail over copyright?

FINALLY, we have finished reading the government’s response to the consultation on copyright “exceptions”, released on 20 December. Season’s greetings to you, too!

In summary: the document notes many of the criticisms levelled by creators and those who distribute our work – and rejects almost every one.

Particularly alarming is a spectacularly opaque proposal on extending “exceptions” – rules allowing use of copyright works without permission of or payment to their creators or anyone else who may hold rights – for the benefit of educational users.

It clearly states that the licences for photocopying and recording of broadcasts in schools will – and the currently important income they provide to the individual creators – will stay in place. This is an improvement on the position in the government’s consultation.

But we suspect that the government wants to rule out new licences for digital copying in schools – perhaps hoping that income to creators will fade away until the last photocopier is turned off. We could be wrong: we await the return of our team of crack policy cryptographers in the New Year.

Also rather vague is the proposal to widen the “exception” for the purposes of quotation, to include,  in the government’s example, bloggers. Do we discern  here a route to an (entirely accidental)   legitimisation of Google’s practices?

The government responds to the forceful reminder from the All-Party Intellectual Property Group of MPs and Lords that copyright is a property right, not a mere irritating matter of regulation. It states that rights in physical property are subject to regulation and expands in a footnote:

“For example in the law of England and Wales the extent of rights over land is limited. For example, freehold interests in land can be lost by failures to protect them, and they may be affected by the rights of third parties, e.g. rights accrued by adverse possession, restrictive covenants and the like.”

It is interesting that the government should justify its position by reference to “adverse possession” – which includes squatters’ rights.

The Creators’ Rights Alliance has no position on squatting, and will certainly not be releasing our list of musicians, visual artists and writers who got started while they were squatters.  

But we have an old-fashioned attachment to consistency, and suggest that if the government really wishes to legalise the practice of a Famous Web Search Engine and others of squatting authors’ and performers’ work, it should rethink its approach to empty physical properties too.

Mike Holderness

Chair, CRA

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