The new European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD), which comes into force today, could adversely hit research into areas such as stronger cryptography, threatening progress in more advanced security methods.
The directive was drafted to protect all copyrights, including digital rights. It will amend the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988 and is the EU's attempt to update copyright protection.
It sets out new rules to protect digital rights management by bringing in draconian measures to protect anti-copying technologies. Now it is illegal to break copyright mechanisms and offenders could face unlimited fines and jail even if carrying out this task for legitimate reasons such as research.
The directive has the potential to affect research into a number of technology areas. For example, an academic researcher studying cryptography methods would be unable to publish their findings if they discovered flaws in a commercially available product, if it intended to break the anti-copyright measures.
Ian Brown, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, said: "In the US we are already seeing researchers refusing to undertake research into security measures because of the chilling effect of [the US equivalent], and we are likely to see this happen in Europe. Because the legislation is not specific enough it could affect higher level security research."
Additionally, this has altered what researchers can legitimately use for publication and teaching. The older provisions on fair dealing allowed researchers to make use of copyrighted material, in certain circumstances, for purposes of research or private study.
Now it is likely that companies, teachers and researchers will have to obtain a licence to copy protected material.
"Although the EUCD gave countries a little room for flexibility in the area of research and file sharing, the UK has gone further than it needed to. This is a direct own goal," said Brown.
Janet Knowles, intellectual property rights solicitor with legal firm Eversheds, said: "Fundamentally the copyright laws haven't been radically changed regarding company responsibilities, but they have nibbled away around the edges.
"For example the fair trading provisions could now cause problems. Where before you could copy other research for any research purposes, companies will now need a licence for commercial research."
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