HL Deb 05 November 2003 vol 654 cc793-5

2.53 p.m.

Lord Lloyd-Webber asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to strengthen current copyright law, with particular regard to unauthorised exploitation of material which was not intended for the public domain.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, we have no plans to make further changes to copyright law beyond those that came into force last week. There are comprehensive remedies for copyright owners where protected material is used without permission. Use of material that was never intended for the public domain may, of course, additionally be a breach of confidence. Remedy exists in the courts as well.

Lord Lloyd-Webber

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply—a careful reply, if I may say so. Does he believe that there is any case to introduce an American-style law of privacy in the UK?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, as noble Lords know, that has been a matter for discussion over the years. However, the Government are satisfied that current legislation provides adequate protection to an individual's right to privacy and a private life. In addition to the common law, the Data Protection Act, the Computer Misuse Act and the Children Act are tailored to safeguard the privacy of an individual in particular circumstances. In addition to those protections, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was given effect in this country by the Human Rights Act 1998, affords a cross-cutting right to privacy.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does not the Question raise a wider issue that may also be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, on the more general protection of intellectual property? With the advance of technologies, it is now increasingly easy to exploit other people's ideas and creativity. As we want to become a country of creativity with value added, surely there is a need for strengthening national and international laws against copyright theft and intellectual property theft.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, we acknowledge the work that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has done in the area. He will remember that, in the 2001–02 Session, the Government supported his Private Member's Bill on video piracy. I assure him that the issues that he raises remain high on the Government's agenda. We have already made some progress to combat copyright piracy, and will continue to think about what needs to be done in future.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it may be sensible to revisit the law of confidence, and thereby in certain circumstances breach of confidence, rather than strengthening the law of copyright?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, nothing that has happened recently suggests to us that there is a need to revisit the law of confidence. Rights to confidentiality may arise in many situations—for example, where a breach of contract involves a confidentiality clause. Such clauses are normally contained in contracts of employment or for services. A duty of confidence may also arise where a person either knows or ought to know that another person can reasonably expect his privacy to be protected. A recent example of a successful case concerning breach of confidence was brought by Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones against Hello! magazine in relation to private wedding photographs. We are content that the law is there and can be used if necessary.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, in order to understand better the supplementary question of my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber, may I ask what is the American system of confidentiality that the Minister rejects?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, someone behind me said, "Give it an hour and a half. I am not a lawyer, and am conscious that I speak to an audience in which there are many lawyers. I have only had practical experience of the American privacy laws. They are very much tougher than ours, to the point of being almost unmanageable. Many has been the occasion when I have had to deal with American privacy laws and had books rewritten to make absolutely sure that they do not fall foul of them. We do not want what we regard as a rather oppressive law here. We are happy and satisfied that our privacy laws provide remedy for those who feel that their privacy has been invaded.

Lord Acton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my American law professor wife has written an admirable book—sorry, a wholly admirable book—called Invasion of Privacy? I hereby undertake to get her to send the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, a signed copy.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for that incredibly helpful intervention.