Changes to UK copyright law – disability exceptions

June last year marked many exciting changes for UK copyright law. Three years prior to this, the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth had concluded that existing laws were ‘obstructing innovation and economic growth.’ It made ten key recommendations – one of which was to update and expand the copyright exceptions, and to protect these from override by contract. A raft of new statutory instruments came into force on the 1st June 2014. Amongst these was No. 1384, the Copyright and Rights in Performances (Disability) Regulations 2014

So, what’s changed?

Prior to last June, we had the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002. This allowed adaptation of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works for those with a visual impairment. The definition of visual impairment was quite broad but it did not include disabilities that were perceived as ‘cognitive’, such as dyslexia. And licensing schemes could take precedence when an ‘approved body’ made and supplied a work.

The new statutory instrument amends section 31 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Essentially, the new exception allows copying of a work of any format – so it now includes film, sound recordings, and broadcasts – for any disabled person if their disability ‘prevents [them] from enjoying the work to the same degree as a person who does not have that disability’.

Multimedia Birds of a Feather
Multimedia Birds of a Feather – films, sound recordings and broadcasts are included in the copyright exception for disabilities for the first time. Image by James Nash and available from under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Some caveats apply – the person must have ‘lawful possession or lawful use’ of the work, and the work cannot be copied if an accessible copy is ‘commercially available on reasonable terms’.

Libraries count as an approved body that may make and supply accessible works, and they may now keep and supply copies to future learners without needing to rely on a licensing scheme. Furthermore, approved bodies may make and supply ‘intermediate copies’ – copies necessary to make the accessible copy – and supply these to other approved bodies that would be entitled to adapt that work.

In future posts I will explore some of the terms which librarians are finding problematic, such as lawful possession, commercially available, reasonable terms, and intermediate copy.

How are you adapting your services to deliver the best possible outcomes to users with disabilities?

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