HC Deb 25 July 1988 vol 138 cc145-7

11 pm

Mr. Fisher

I beg to move amendment No. 318, in page 24, line 16, leave out clause 60.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 331, in page 24, line 18, after 'abstract', insert 'or its typographical arrangement'.

Mr. Fisher

The purpose of amendment No. 318 is to delete clause 60, in particular its provision for the republication of abstracts by, in effect, a form of compulsory licensing, which is referred to in clause 141(1)(b).

The amendment raises a point that is different from those that we have been making about copying, but none the less it is important. Abstracts are copyright works of much value, especially to academics and researchers. As we understand it, clause 60 will allow not only copying of abstracts but their republication. That would be in contravention of the Berne convention. Surely authors should at least have the right to preserve their copyrights without the arm-twisting that clause 60 appears to impose on them. Some publishers of abstracts will not wish to have such valuable material republished or copied by others, but clause 60(2) may force them to comply under the certifiable schemes referred to in clause 141(l)(b).

Clause 60 is an undesirable provision, and throws the problems of copying far too wide. We hope that the Government will withdraw the clause.

Mr. Bowis

I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to elucidate a couple of points regarding facsimile copies of abstracts.

Although abstracts of articles in the humanities are less common than in the sciences, will my hon. Friend explain why the humanities have been excluded? Should not reference have been made to academic as well as scientific work?

The fastest way to publish abstracts is reprographically, but under clause 8(1) that would seem to be a breach of the copyright of the typographical arrangement. Clause 8(2) relates to reproduction of the same work. I doubt whether that is what was intended, but I should be grateful for my hon. Friend's elucidation.

Mr. Butcher

Clause 60, which amendment No. 318 seeks to remove from the Bill, is an exception to the rights of copyright owners, which I moved in Committee. I did so because, after full investigation of the matter, the Government believe that it provides a valuable safeguard for the continued operation of abstracting services, which play an essential role in the dissemination of scientific and technical information.

As I explained in Committee, the scientific and technical communities are served by a number of abstracting services. Some of them are purely commercial, such as Derwent Publications, and others are offshoots of learned societies, such as the Institution of Electrical Engineers. They scan periodicals from around the world and write or reproduce abstracts of articles of scientific or technical interest. They will normally apply a classification system to the abstracts, so that their clients can readily find those of particular interest to them.

All that is carried out under the present law, which, in our view, does not allow the republication of abstracts in the absence of authorisation by the copyright owner. We understand that, where authorisation is sought from publishers, it is normally given—usually without any request for payment. However, we also understand that in many cases consent is not sought, for practical or other reasons. In that event, the republication is an infringement of copyright.

Clearly, abstracting services are highly valued by the scientific and technical communities, and it is unsatisfactory that they should be carrying out their activities on a legally uncertain footing. The easy way of meeting their worries would have been simply to provide an exception to copyright, allowing republication of this kind. We resisted an amendment to this effect in another place, but said that we would consider alternative ways of meeting the problem, in consultation with publishing interests.

This clause is the outcome. I acknowledge that it has caused some concern to the Publishers Association and the Periodical Publishers Association Ltd. We have, however, taken account of the commercial interests of publishers by providing that the exception in subsection (1), allowing republication of abstracts, will be overridden if there is a licensing scheme. Consequently, authors and publishers will have the opportunity to obtain remuneration from this secondary use of abstracts if they wish. Conversely, they will be relieved of the burden of having to respond to individual requests for permission to republish abstracts.

I should add that we have consulted the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, whose journals and periodicals are among those most likely to be affected, and it is content to see an exception of this sort.

Amendment No. 331 would extend the exception even further. It would allow the abstracting service not merely to copy the original abstract word for word, but also to copy the original publisher's typography, which would be going too far. Abstracting services are themselves publishers and should be prepared to do their own typesetting. The scientific community needs the information, but it does not need to have it presented in a particular typeface or layout. There is no need to reduce the original publisher's rights any further.

For the reasons I have given, I must resist both these amendments and I hope that they will not be pressed.

Mr. Fisher

The Minister said that these abstracts are valued. Will he also confirm that they are valuable and that there is considerable commercial advantage and potential in these abstracts? If he does accept that, and that is the case, is it not bizarre that this uniquely should be ignored in a clause contained in a Bill which seeks to protect people's economic copyright?

Mr. Butcher

We have debated this at some length, and I have not found an argument to considerably change our view on this. The hon. Gentleman has asked me to come back on a point, so I shall use the opportunity to reply to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis). He asked why the humanities were excluded, and the answer lies in the remark that I made earlier—that the exceptions should be no wider than necessary. The only case put to us that needed action related to science and technology.

Amendment negatived.

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