The UK Government has confirmed that, because of the date on which the UK is to leave the EU and the length of the transition period, it will not be required to implement the EU Copyright Directive (2019/790) and that it has no plans to do so.
The UK is to leave the EU on 31 January 2020 and the transition period should not go beyond 31 December 2020. The EU Copyright Directive would have had to have been implemented by the UK on 7 June 2021 if it had remained a Member State.
The EU Copyright Directive was intended to modernise and harmonise the laws of copyright across the EU, but it introduces a number of changes to copyright protection which has led to it being opposed by major technology companies on the one hand, but welcomed by publishers and newspapers on the other.
Article 17 provides for new obligations on online content sharing service providers, i.e. those who store and give the public access to large amounts of protected subject-matter uploaded by its users. The Directive makes the providers liable for unauthorised acts of communication to the public unless they have made best efforts to obtain an authorisation, made best efforts to make specific identified works unavailable and have acted expeditiously upon receiving notice from a rightsholder. This obligation on providers is more onerous than currently exists and some have suggested it requires a general upload filter to be utilised in order to comply. This has raised concerns about freedom of expression.
On the other hand, the Directive (at Article 15) explicitly provides direct protection for press publishers online (subject to some narrow exceptions where very short extracts are reproduced or hyperlinks are provided). Nevertheless, concerns have been raised about this provision making news less accessible to researchers and the public.
The UK Government’s announcement is therefore likely to be received with mixed feelings by many, not least the Society of Authors who had anticipated it being implemented in UK law prior to the UK leaving the EU. It remains to be seen whether and to what extent the UK subsequently considers the laws relating to copyright to be in need of reform in the digital age and the steps that will be taken.