A report from the British Academy, published 18 September, expresses fears that the copyright system may in important respects be impeding, rather than stimulating, the production of new ideas and new scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.
It is in the nature of creative activity and scholarship that original material builds on what has gone before - 'if I have seen further, it is because I had stood on the shoulders of giants' - therefore provisions that are overly protective of the rights of existing ideas may inhibit the development of new ones.
Existing UK law provides exemption from copyright for fair dealing with material for purposes of private study and non-commercial research, and for criticism and review. "There is, however, little clarity about the precise scope of these exemptions, and an absence of case law" said John Kay, who is Chair of the Working Group which oversaw the Review. "Publishers are risk-averse, and themselves defensive of existing copyrights."
The situation is aggravated by the increasingly aggressive defence of copyright by commercial rights holders, and the growing role - most of all in music - of media businesses with no interest in or understanding of the needs of scholarship. It is also aggravated by the unsatisfactory EU Database Directive, which is at once vague and wide-ranging, and by the development of digital rights management systems, which may enable publishers to use technology to circumvent the exceptions to copyright which are contained in current legislation.