Digital Heritage

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 20th January 2010.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 1:24 pm, 20th January 2010

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable specified institutions to make digital copies of cultural artefacts for archival purposes notwithstanding the existence of any intellectual property right;
and for connected purposes.

The transmission of our heritage has been revolutionised by the interconnected world of the internet. The greatest cultures of the world are being opened up to the hundreds of millions of people who use the internet. In countries with rich histories such as India, China, Brazil and Mexico, future generations will discuss, consider and analyse their heritage online. As H.G. Wells predicted and Pierre Lévy recently observed, humankind now has the capacity to build a universal digital memory. Many countries' cultural institutions have started on this grand project only in the past few years, however, and their work is often hampered by laws that were framed to deal with the problems of the analogue age.

Our system of copyright has for many years-perhaps even before the invention of the worldwide web-been creaking at the edges. It has been unable to cope with the explosive growth of creativity and content, as well as the creation of new technologies and the ever-increasing pace of change, particularly in the latter 20th century. The Gowers review identified many steps that could be taken to allow our great cultural institutions-such as the British Library, the British Film Institute and the National Archives-to curate their works in a manner that allows all the opportunities of the digital age to be grasped. The review highlighted that the UK had far more stringent restrictions on copying classes of work for archival and preservation purposes than other countries. It also made specific recommendations on how the UK could deal with orphan works-copyrighted works where it is either difficult or impossible to track down the rights holder.

It is reassuring to know that many of the issues raised by curators and copyright lawyers are addressed by proposals in the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently being discussed in the other place. However, the many wise heads in the other place who are applying their minds to the Bill are moving amendments at a baffling pace. We therefore do not know in what form the Bill will come to this House, although I must say that if Lords Erroll, Whitty, Razzall and Clement-Jones get their way, at least we can be reassured that it will be in much better shape when it reaches us.

The Digital Economy Bill is perhaps the most important Bill for the creative industries this decade, yet they know, as we all do in this House-

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