UK: “not practical” to adopt US fair use

The UK will not adopt US fair use. This was revealed in statements made by Baroness Wilcox, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Business, Innovation and Skills and John Alty, Chief Executive and Comptroller General, Intellectual Property Office, in testimony before the UK Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on November 15, 2011.

Here is a extract from the testimony.

Q219 Chair : At the time, there were assertions that companies such as Google would not start up in this country because of the UK copyright law. Do you still hold that theory now and will Government policy reflect that or accommodate Google?

Baroness Wilcox: We certainly don’t hold that theory.

Chair : You don’t hold it.


Baroness Wilcox: Nor did we hold that theory. Somebody spoke to the Americans, who said on a day in summer when everybody was on holiday, “We’d never have started here. You can’t start here.” If you report that to a new Government, they will be terribly worried, but the truth of the matter is that the Americans were arguing for a thing called “fair use”. Fair use is a system that they use; we have a system in the European Union and, obviously, within Britain that is not fair use but it is good. That does not mean to say that we will not look at it to see if there are areas within fair use that we could adapt for us, but there would be no point in our changing completely to the American fair use system. John, do you wish to add to that?


John Alty: That is a pretty comprehensive answer. As the Minister said, one of the questions that Ian Hargreaves was asked to look at was whether the fair use system for copyright in the US could and should be transplanted into the UK. As Baroness Wilcox said, his conclusion was that that was not practical, but he did make recommendations to try and achieve some of the benefits of that system; that really goes to the balance between the ability of companies and businesses to make use of copyright material without undermining the original incentives to creativity.

There are good reasons why a US fair use regime should not be transplanted in Canada. Dan Glover and I explained why in a paper we submitted to the copyright consultations held in 2009, Why Canada Should Not Adopt Fair Use: A Joint Submission to the Copyright Consultation. The reasons given there could also apply to other potential major changes to our fair dealing framework.

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