Clause 2 - Search warrants

Copyright, etc. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 9 January 2002.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I shall say a few words about the clause, which introduces one of the three substantive changes. It is a means of widening the scope available to the police for seeking an effective search warrant from a justice of the peace, thereby making enforcement more effective.

Currently, much of the investigatory work is carried out by trading standards officers in conjunction with the trade. Twickenham is the centre of the organisation called FACT—the Federation Against Copyright Theft—which does much of the investigatory work. However, the police become involved, and must secure a search warrant. Powers already exist under various pieces of legislation—in relation to intent to defraud, for example—and copyright provisions already exist under the 1988 Act. The powers are somewhat circumscribed, and under the existing legislation the police must be able to demonstrate that there is a good reason to believe that the people involved in copyright crime are involved in large-scale importing—the Chinese triad phenomenon—or that their UK operation is producing the goods in-house to sell them.

The most common manifestation of copyright crime is likely to be a stock of goods, which is available for sale through a street market. That, in itself, does not constitute ground for a search warrant. The purpose of the clause is therefore to widen slightly the scope for a search warrant to enable the police to secure it on good grounds of suspicion that a substantial amount of

counterfeit goods is involved for sale. They will have to prove that, and give evidence on oath—there will be no serious encroachment of civil liberties in terms of search warrants—but the clause will remove one of the potential anomalies under existing provisions.

One of the other tidying-up aspects of the Bill—a thread that runs throughout the clauses, some of which are complex—is that the nature of copyright and intellectual property is changing. Since the existing legislation was passed in 1988, new concepts, such as decoders for satellite television, have come into existence. Much copyright theft is associated with that—for which current legislation does not provide—and the Bill enables such concepts to be built into the law. All the policy implications will be dealt with next Monday when the House considers the communications Bill. The Bill before us deals with copyright theft in relation to search warrants, and applies it especially to aspects such as decoding machines and music recording, for which existing legislation does not provide.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I note the hon. Gentleman's comments on the changing nature of technology and how that inevitably affects copyright law, which is effectively a creative right, as Adam Smith would have it. How confident is he that the Bill will stand the test of the incorporation of the European copyright directive into British law?

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I was in Brussels about six weeks ago and I asked that question of officials and Members of the European Parliament whom I met in the relevant directorate. I discussed briefly the Bill with them and they were confident that the two are compatible. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, we are discussing radically changing technology and, in five years' time, we may well need to amend the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.