UK Government Wants To Give Itself Power To Change Copyright Law Without Full Parliamentary Scrutiny
from the henry-viii-would-be-proud dept
A common feature of democracies is that new laws are scrutinized and debated by representatives of the people before they are passed — the hope being that bad proposals can be amended or discarded. Laws giving governments the power to change other laws with only minimal oversight are therefore generally regarded as a Bad Thing. But that’s exactly what the UK government plans to introduce, as this article on the Out-Law.com site explains:
The Government has outlined proposals to change UK copyright law to allow the Business Secretary to draw up any future laws affecting exceptions to copyright and rights in performances in the form of new regulations. The regulations would be contained in a statutory instrument, a draft of which would need to be “laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament” before it could come into force.
However, that “approval by resolution” can be pretty minimal compared to the process required for passing new laws:
Acts of Parliament must be read, subject to further scrutiny and debate and approved by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords before they can come into law. However, new regulations in the form of statutory instruments can often be introduced without the same level of scrutiny or debate.
This power to change laws without Parliamentary approval is known as a “Henry VIII clause“, since that monarch also availed himself of their convenience.
Such a meta-law that allows other laws to be changed without full scrutiny is potentially a dangerous thing, but it does cut both ways. It’s true that it would permit the UK government to make copyright law even more unbalanced, but it might also allow it to move in the other direction, something already raised during discussions about this new power:
representatives from the creative industries had expressed “real concern” about plans to further liberalise the use of copyrighted material.
Their evident fear is that the UK government might bring in new exceptions to copyright pretty much without debate, and therefore in a way that they could not so easily fight using traditional lobbying techniques.
Although that would be a welcome result in terms of updating copyright, its benefit is probably outweighed by the long-term risk of such a Henry VIII clause being used by a future UK government to make copyright worse. On balance, it’s preferable to have laws discussed and debated in the normal democratic way, rather than simply trusting governments to use their absolute powers wisely.