IPO publishes copyright works clarification following Free Our History campaign

The Intellectual Property Office has responded to the Free our History campaign by issuing a much needed Copyright Notice to clarify the legal position when putting an in copyright literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work on public display. 

Under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 the “performance, showing or playing of work in public” is a restricted act, with “performance” in relation to a work including “any mode of visual or acoustic presentation”.  What constitutes a mode of “visual or acoustic presentation” is not defined in the Act, so cultural organisations wanting to make certain works accessible to the public without first securing permission from the rights holder have been prevented from doing so. 

It was unclear whether, for example, displaying a letter or diary in a display cabinet in a museum or gallery is a mode of visual presentation?  The Copyright Notice, published on Monday, says it is not:

“It is generally accepted that the term “visual or acoustic presentation” refers to the presentation of a work by means of a technical process, and so would not include the public exhibition of a physical copy of a literary, dramatic or musical work”.

The Free Our History campaign called on UK Government to implement provisions in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 that would reduce the term of copyright protection in certain unpublished texts such as letters and diaries from the end of the year 2039 to the author’s lifetime plus 70 years.  Whilst the Government announced in January that it will not be implementing these changes, this Notice does mean that cultural organisations can confidently display such items even though they remain in copyright.  

"We welcome the IPO's clarification about the display of in-copyright works, such as text based works, by our cultural heritage organisations. For many years, this issue has caused confusion amongst our staff and in some cases, meant that either permissions have needlessly been obtained or works not put on display. We look forward to working with IPO in the future to remove further obstacles which reduce access to our cultural heritage" – Naomi Korn, Chair, Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance

Copyright Notices are published by the Intellectual Property Office to help explain specific areas of copyright law in the UK.  They were introduced following recommendations made by Professor Ian Hargreaves in his 2011 review of copyright law.