UK Politicians Don't Seem To Mind That Every Web Page You Load Is Copyright Infringement Under Current Law

from the you're-breaking-the-law-while-reading-this dept

Last year Techdirt wrote about the almost unbelievable Meltwater decision in the UK, where the courts said that viewing a Web page without the owner’s permission was copyright infringement. In November last year, leave was granted to Meltwater to make an appeal against the ruling to the UK’s Supreme Court. However, that still leaves the inconvenient matter of the infringement by tens of millions of UK Web users hundreds of times every day in the meantime.

To rectify this ridiculous situation, the British MP Fiona O’Donnell has proposed some simple amendments to UK copyright law, as this post on explains:

The act of downloading data required to view that copyright material “and any subsequent processing of that data, including processing for display, provided that it does not result in any publication elsewhere of the work or an adaptation of the work” should also be explicitly permissible, O’Donnell’s draft amendment had proposed.

Given its frequent exhortations to the public not to infringe on copyright in any way, you would have thought the UK government would have rushed this amendment through in order to legalize what are, after all, absolutely indispensable actions when using the Web. But no:

Last week Business Minister Norman Lamb said the Government would not draft new copyright laws to make the act of website browsing explicitly legitimate and not in breach of copyright until the courts had ruled on the issue.

Since the Supreme Court is not expected to rule on this until the beginning of next year, that means another six months of blanket infringement for UK users of the Web. When even the British government seems not to care about the letter of copyright law, which is hard enough to understand at the best of times, how are ordinary citizens supposed to know what is legal or illegal as they go about their daily lives online?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “UK Politicians Don't Seem To Mind That Every Web Page You Load Is Copyright Infringement Under Current Law”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This was discussed in the case, but only briefly. Yes, there can be “implied licences” such as when you publish something on the Internet, however they can be defeated by express licences.

In the case itself, this issue didn’t really arise as all the newspapers involved apparently had some sort of express statement in their T&Cs that the content could be copied etc. but only for personal use. Meltwater was doing something that wasn’t personal use, so there wasn’t really an issue with this.

However, back in the rest of the Internet, it comes down to what is enough to count as an express licence. For example, many websites have something along the lines of “? All Rights Reserved” on them. That could be enough to override an implied licence. So if you’re in England or Wales, are browsing the Internet and see something like that, there is a good chance that you’re breaking the law.

Practically, of course, no one cares. Just another example of the law being completely out of step with reality when it comes to copyright or the Internet.

Jason says:

And now for something completely different

“In other news, this would be the link that links to the article that includes an image of several links that might infringe upon our own copyright, but since we’re still waiting for word from Sony and EMI on whether we can report this, here’s Tim with today’s sports reenactments.”

Dewey Cheetum and Howstein says:


OK, now, you have infringed our copyright.

You are being sued for a kazillion dollars!

Who says you can’t profit off the internet? It’s the world’s greatest financial rape medium!

Hell has arrived at last. Total impunity and the Farce of Law on our side (the side of evil). We can’t lose. I mean whose gonna prosecute us rich rapists?

No-fucking-body, that’s who.

Anonymous Coward says:

the main reason the UK government are waiting to make a decision is they haven’t got a fucking clue what they are talking about or what they are doing! some equally brainless idiot has said that the Internet has to be blocked completely because if not people will be finding out all sorts of information, some of it being detrimental to the government and that must be stopped at all costs. at the same time stop any downloads of infringing material, whatever that might be

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

some equally brainless idiot has said that the Internet has to be blocked completely because if not people will be finding out all sorts of information, some of it being detrimental to the government

The UK should just take the old Soviet Union/KGB propaganda/freedom-suppression/killing tactic that the United States is busily perfecting and destroy those who would dare release information on government incompetence. Has being up the US’s waste-pipe all these years taught them nothing?

Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s also worth noting that no one cares about this. Even copyright lawyers and commentators generally recognise that the original ruling had no practical effects, and none of the big lobby groups are that interested. As for the government – why would they want to waste time on the Internet; they’re not going to win any votes by changing a law that no one follows anyway? The original ruling was back in 2010 and the Supreme Court won’t be hearing it until late 2012 or early 2013 – the law can wait.

Contrast this with the situation that developed last year with police bail conditions, when a court ruled that the police were breaking the law by holding people on indefinite bail without charge, the case was fast-tracked to the Supreme Court (within a couple of months) but the Government (under pressure from the police lobby groups) rushed through a new law in a week, completely undercutting the work of the courts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I bet the US would have a different view on this extradition process when the tables are turned.

No it wouldn’t. They’ve got the majority of the bombs and guns and they make war (which they usually lose) at the drop of a hat. It gives them a false sense of security, similar to what the ancient Roman empire had just before it fell apart.

Tunnen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:


War of 1812 – More of a draw than a loss, but Washington was still razed.
WW2 (Europe) – Possible claim that joining in the end game doesn’t actually equate to a victory.
Korea – Didn’t go to well, still ended in a draw.
Vietnam – Loss
War on Drugs – Not going that well.
War on Piracy – Ditto.
War on Terrorism – Still not much to write home about.

But still in the overall scheme of things, the American’s have won more conflicts then they lost…. But being in a large number of conflicts to begin with isn’t much of a bragging point either.

Chilly8 says:

UK law is odd. I run an online radio station, about 6 years ago, I used some stats from Figure Skating Universe, which is in Britain, when reporting the results of a competition, and they banned me from the site, claiming copyright infringement. I can see now where they got their crazy idea that using their stats in my report was copyright infringement, that crazy British copyright law you just reported on in the article.

Duke (profile) says:

Not just visiting websites

The other fun part of the original case was where the Judge found that *receiving* an email involved an act of copying. So… if someone sends you an email with something covered by copyright (such as a picture of a kitten with an amusing caption, or merely some forwarded text), simply by opening the email you may be breaking the law (if you’re in England or Wales).

Anonymous Coward says:

OMG!! You know what this means?!!!!


I surf so much!! I bet I’ve caused trillions of dollars in damages due to lost sales!!

Saddam ain’t got shit on me I’ve damaged the world in amounts more than our planet is worth. I’m a fucking superstar!

Sigh 🙁 I was gonna say FML but I don’t have one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What every government wants...

This is precisely true. When a state criminalises all its citizens, it is then free to pick and choose who to arrest and prosecute on the basis of its own whims, and it is no longer a country ruled by law, but instead is ruled by the whims of people empowered with govermental/state authority.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is similar under U.S. copyright law, where downloading a web page counts a copying, and therefore may be copyright infringement if done without permission.

However, in nearly all cases, there would be an implied license to engage in such copying. The rub is when websites have explicit terms and conditions limiting use of their sites to certain purposes (e.g., noncommercial, noncompetetive, etc.).

Mwhahaha says:

I missed this the first time around. Fantastic.

However the UK has some arcane laws going back centuries, a lot of the older ones broken by many people all the time. I’d have to know where the initial ruling came from. But I’ll plough on regardless…

So… why aren’t we all arrested?

Because the police aren’t petty little pedants (contrary to most people’s views!) and understand that commonsense has to prevail.

It’s only lawyers (and possibly online journalists) who don’t have enough to do, so expect the letter of the law to be upheld and then cry foul when it isn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

No Glyn, once again, you get the basics wrong.

It’s not a copyright violation to download a webpage, because the website owner gives you that permission. As the rights holder, they have that right to grant anyone access.

It would only be a real issue if the website said “copyright and you may not access it in any way”.

Copyright doesn’t automatically mean locked up. You need to learn that basic idea.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...