HL Deb 13 May 1985 vol 463 cc891-3

2.54 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Hampstead

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take in the light of the Court of Appeal's decision that removing a feature film from a cinema to enable pirated versions of the film to be made does not amount to "theft" within the Theft Act 1968.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Lucas of Chilworth)

My Lords, the events to which this decision relates took place before enactment of the Copyright (Amendment) Act 1983, when penalties for the copyright offences relevant to this case were very low. That Act substantially increased the penalties in relation to the making of pirated copies of films, so that further action in this regard is unnecessary.

Lord Lloyd of Hampstead

My Lords, while thanking the noble Minister for his rather negative reply, may I ask whether he is aware that the Lord Chief Justice, in the course of his judgment in that case, referred to the profits of the film pirates as "enormous", and said that the legitimate trade in feature films was potentially crippled? Is the noble Lord aware that he also stated that the law has not yet entirely caught up with this type of offence? May I therefore ask the noble Lord the Minister whether he would accept that such offences, with the grave threat they pose to the feature film industry, go a great deal further than mere infringements of copyright, even though I accept that the penalties have been increased for those; that they amount to theft of intellectual property and that the law should so treat them?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, had the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, been in your Lordships' House on Friday last when we were discussing the Copyright (Computer Software) Amendment Bill, I feel sure he would have enjoyed the dissertation given by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross concerning the effects of the 1983 Copyright (Amendment) Act on the piracy of videos and films. Of course, we shall take careful account of the Court of Appeal's judgment in this particular case, to which the noble Lord refers. However, I have to say that in the light of the 1983 Act we have no immediate plans for changes in the Theft Act.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, are we to understand from the noble Lord, on the assumption that the Question does correctly paraphrase the decision that was reached in the courts, that the unauthorised removal of a film from a cinema for the purpose of piracy is not an offence of some kind?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, indeed it is an offence. It is of course not for me to give a view on what the Court of Appeal decided. Their decision is fully reported in The Times Law Report of the 29th April. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, will recall that the events to which Lord Lloyd's Question refers took place before the enactment in July 1983 of the Copyright (Amendment) Act. I am given to understand that had that Act been in force at that time no doubt a prosecution would have been brought under that Act, with its very much heavier penalties. However, it was not; and the courts decided in the manner in which they did, in so far as the particular charge was brought under the Theft Act.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, does not the Minister recognise that the events which are referred to in the Question add greatly to the distress currently being suffered by the film industry? Will the Minister appreciate that the mood within the film industry is one of great anxiety, and it is not helped by the current legislation before Parliament?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has quite the wrong understanding. My understanding is that the film industry are particularly pleased with the effects that the 1983 legislation has had. I would again refer to Hansard of Friday last, in which the figures were quoted. If my memory serves me right, the number of infringements—that is, of piracy of film—has been reduced by some 60 per cent. as a result of that Act.

Regarding the noble Lord's second point, I am quite sure that the noble Lord will allow your Lordships' House to have the benefit of his thoughts on this matter tonight when we debate the Films Bill.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that if his answer means that, in his opinion, if this offence were now committed, a conviction would very likely result, then in that respect the film industry will be reassured?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I do not think I can add anything more to that which I have already said in this regard.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, while obviously the learned Lord Chief Justice is all knowing, is it not a fact that the provisions of the Copyright (Amendment) Act 1983 were not referred to him at the trial of this matter?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I cannot answer the noble Lord, but my understanding is that even if they were referred, the events took place before the enactment of the Copyright (Amendment) Act 1983. Therefore the case was heard under the Theft Act 1968.

Lord Mischon

My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed one moment. All I was saying was that when the learned Lord Chief Justice referred to the question of the possible disadvantages of the law at the moment, his attention was not, so far as I understand it, drawn to the fact of a later Act which made the current position rather better. That was my point.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I would not quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. If that is his understanding, again, I would not quarrel. I have to say that I do not have an understanding one way or another of what was drawn to the noble and learned Lord's attention.

Lord Lloyd of Hampstead

My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I would ask the noble Lord the Minister whether he is aware that the report of this case which has, so far as I know, yet appeared only in The Times, makes it quite clear that the noble and learned Lord Chief Justice was aware of the new Act and in fact expressly referred to it in his judgment.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I have the Law Report, as printed in The Times on 29th April, and looking quickly through in these few moments I catch a note of a date which would suggest to me that his attention was drawn to it.

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