December 25, 2014 | By Jeremy Malcolm

International Copyright Law: 2014 in Review

Copyright law remains just as broken in 2014 as it was in 2013, but some countries have been tinkering around the edges of copyright this year in an attempt to address its flaws.

The United Kingdom stands out as a country where the need for copyright reform has been comprehensively studied over the past decade, and where a number of key recommendations of the most recent study—for once—were not shelved, but actually found their way into the law books. These included provisions facilitating the use of copyright works by students, researchers, teachers, libraries and the disabled.

The rest of Europe is at an earlier stage of its current copyright review, though a leaked whitepaper hints that the proposals that come out of it will be unambitious, placing undue emphasis on strengthening copyright enforcement through intermediaries, and by facilitating user-generated content through licensing rather than by introducing a fit-for-purpose copyright limitation such as fair use.

A similar wide-ranging copyright review began in Australia in 2012, the final conclusions of that report being tabled in Parliament this February. The key recommendation the report made was that Australia should adopt a fair use exception in its copyright law. Unfortunately the government's priorities were quite different. The recommendation on fair use was dismissively rejected, and instead the government this month announced further protections for copyright owners such as a graduated response scheme and website blocking, as well as recently drafting new data retention laws that could be used for copyright enforcement.

A Spanish copyright amendment due to take force next January goes further, holding website operators criminally liable for refusing to remove links to allegedly copyright-infringing content, and also taking aim at news aggregators such as Google by charging a ridiculous “ancillary copyright” fee for the use of news snippets alongside links. The predictable result was the demise of the Spanish version of Google News.

As often seems to be the case, some welcome sanity in copyright policy this year came not from the piracy-obsessed legislatures, but from the courts. Among the most important copyright-related court decisions from around the world this year came from the European Court of Justice, which separately ruled in favour of the legality of embedded hyperlinks, clarified that a library is entitled to freely digitize its own collection, and narrowed the lawfulness of the levies that most Europeans pay on copying devices and media—ruling that these levies can't be inflated to compensate for piracy.

Looking ahead to 2015, Europe's copyright review, referred to above, will be one of the key developments to watch for. Many of the problems of copyright in Europe—such as the lack of a single market for digital copyright works, which results in geographic walled-gardens of content online—are problems for which the rest of the world is also looking for solutions. Will constructive attempts to address copyright's shortcomings take priority over the tired and quixotic war on piracy in international copyright policy circles in 2015?  We can only hope.

This article is part of our Year In Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2014. Like what you're reading? EFF is a member-supported nonprofit, powered by donations from individuals around the world. Join us today and defend free speech, privacy, and innovation.


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