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UK approach on EU copyright reforms depends on Brexit

The UK government may not implement controversial new copyright laws that are set to be fixed in EU law in the coming weeks, the UK's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has confirmed.

A spokesperson for the IPO told Out-Law.com that UK implementation of the Digital Single Market Copyright Directive will be dictated by the outcome of the current Brexit process.

MEPs recently voted to adopt the new Directive, although it will not enter into EU law until it is also formally endorsed by the EU's Council of Ministers. The Council is made up of representatives from the governments of EU member states. Its vote on the reforms is imminent.

EU countries will have two years from the date the Directive takes effect in EU law to implement the reforms in national law.

The UK could leave the EU as early as 12 April, although this is subject to change. It remains unclear whether the UK will be an EU member state at the point the Directive takes effect in EU law, whether the terms of any withdrawal agreement that might be ratified will require the UK to implement the reforms even if it is no longer an EU member, or whether Brexit will happen in the short term or even at all.

The IPO's spokesperson explained to Out-Law.com how the political environment will shape the UK's approach to the EU's new Copyright Directive.

"The government has supported the goals of the EU Copyright Directive throughout its negotiation, wanting to see fairer rewards for creators in the online ecosystem, while protecting the rights of users and ensuring a thriving digital economy," the IPO's spokesperson said. "While the final Directive is not perfect, it is an important modernisation of the copyright framework for the digital age. It will help to ensure that creators are more fairly rewarded for the use of their works online."

"The UK’s ability to implement the Directive into domestic law will be influenced by the wider context of our departure from the EU," they said.

"If the UK does implement this measure, any changes will need to be subject to a full and thorough consultation and robust impact assessment. The government will work with interested individuals and businesses to ensure these proposals are implemented in a way which works for the British economy and which strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of the affected parties," the spokesperson confirmed.

Intellectual property law expert Iain Connor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "With so much uncertainty around the Brexit process and the UK IPO’s stated position regarding the various transition arrangements as being ‘sticking plasters’, any thought of implementing new legislation when there is so much to do with Brexit comes as no surprise. Further, given the internet lobby was against many aspects of the DSM, the UK government may want to keep its options open for future trade deals by not tying itself into an EU system so disliked by many third countries."

Frankfurt-based Nils Rauer of Pinsent Masons said: "For the other 27 EU countries, the new Copyright Directive brings further harmonisation of copyright, but only on a sectoral basis. The EU still lacks a fully harmonious copyright regime – copyright remains a largely domestic concept, though at an increasingly harmonised level."

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