I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It is with pleasure as well as a deep sense of responsibility that I introduce the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 1998. This Bill represents a small first step in a root and branch reform of copyright law which is one of this Government's highest legislative priorities. The principal instrument of that reform, the proposed Copyright and Related Rights Bill, 1998, is in an advanced state of preparation in my Department and I hope to be in a position to bring it before this House in the near future.
The importance for the economy of providing a modern, effective and efficient regime of protection for copyright and related rights can scarcely be overstated. Copyright is still often thought of mainly in terms of books and other written materials. Yet, although the protection of this traditional area may be important, it goes only a little way to showing the importance of copyright in the commercial system as a whole. Copyright and its related rights are designed to protect the essential economic interests of creators and owners of a wide range of intellectual assets, including dramatic, musical and artistic works, computer programmes, databases, sound recordings and broadcasts, as well as rights in live performances. Without a strong regime of legal protection for copyright and related rights, the vitality of enterprise in all these areas could be blunted or destroyed. Bearing that in mind, and given the enormous contribution of both the artistic and high technology sectors to the current success of the economy, Deputies will require little convincing of the vital need for a powerful system of protection for copyright and related rights in Ireland.
The present state of copyright legislation is far from satisfactory. Many Deputies will be familiar with the remark that Ireland is, courtesy of St. Colmcille and his book, the birthplace of copyright. Be that as it may, it cannot be argued that our record in updating this area of our legislation has been impressive in recent years.
The last substantial reform was effected by the Copyright Act, 1963, which was to a large extent based on the United Kingdom Copyright Act of 1956. In terms of primary legislation, the intervening period has been barren, apart from the limited Copyright (Amendment) Act, 1987. In the area of performers' rights, the Performers' Protection Act, 1968, afforded limited protection to the rights of performers under criminal law but, at least in any direct sense, did little to secure performers' rights in the civil field. In addition, some secondary legislation has been introduced in the form of regulations under the European Communities Act with the aim of transposing certain European Community directives into Irish law. However, Ireland is facing the 21st century with copyright legislation designed for the 1950s.
This situation is profoundly unsatisfactory. A copyright system designed for the 1950s and left to stand without revision or review cannot serve the needs of the cultural sector or of our modern information and entertainment industries, the more so when the principal Act upon which that system rests was expressed in technology specific terms appropriate to that period. The Government is totally committed to sweeping away the archaic and outmoded system based on the Copyright Act, 1963, and to bringing forward a new regime of protection for copyright and related rights in line with the most stringent requirements of the information age. This reform will be achieved for the most part in the forthcoming Copyright and Related Rights Bill, 1998. It would be inappropriate to discuss the content of that measure in the context of the present Bill. However, it might be useful to indicate some of the principal objects informing its preparation.
The Government's intention is that in place of the outmoded system of copyright and related rights protection currently in place, the new legislation will provide for a clear, transparent and logical system of protection for copyright and related rights, for performers' property rights and rights in performances, moral rights in copyright works and for intellectual property rights in databases. The Copyright and Related Rights Bill will include clear provisions on the assignment and transmission of rights and on the licensing of rights. The existing provisions on infringement, offences, remedies and penalties will be replaced by a new regime clearly favouring the vindication of their rights by legitimate rightsholders and allowing for the imposition of penalties which are realistic by modern standards in relation to offences expressed in clear and comprehensive terms.
Apart from its generally outdated quality, a specific criticism of current Irish copyright and related rights legislation is that there has been a failure to transpose into Irish law the terms of a number of European Union directives relevant to this area and to bring Irish law into conformity with obligations incurred under international law on copyright and related rights. I assure Deputies that it will be a specific objective of the Copyright and Related Rights Bill, 1998, to bring Irish law into full conformity with all the EU directives in question, as well as all relevant obligations under international law, including the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, known as the TRIPs Agreement.
In view of its important and extensive subject matter, it will not surprise Deputies that the Copyright and Related Rights Bill will be one of the longest and most complex non-consolidation Bills to come before this House when, in the near future, the lengthy process of its preparation and drafting comes to an end. In the meantime, the Government is pleased to bring forward the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 1998, as a means of dealing with two serious deficiencies in the existing legislation as a matter of urgency and, perhaps more importantly, as an earnest of its determination to achieve comprehensive copyright reform at the earliest possible date.
The measures included in the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 1998, may be briefly summarised as follows. The Bill contains two substantive sections. Section 2, which provides a replacement for the present section 26 of the Copyright Act, 1963, is designed to secure the following: that a presumption as to the subsistence of copyright in a work which is clearer than that contained in the Copyright Act, 1963, is put in place; that a clear presumption in favour of copyright rightsholders taking civil actions for breach of copyright, with the onus on defendants to rebut, is put in place; and that where a copy of a work carries or embodies a statement or mark identifying a party as the author, owner or exclusive licensee in relation to the copyright in that work, the identification thus established shall be presumed correct with the onus on defendants to rebut.
The right of copyright rightsholders to take civil actions for breach of copyright will always be a vital part of the overall system of protection for copyright rights, and the provisions of section 2 are designed to establish clear presumptions which will facilitate copyright rightsholders in taking such actions. The right to bring civil actions is only part of the answer to copyright infringement. It must be supplemented with a regime of offences and penalties of sufficient severity to constitute a punishment and a deterrent proportionate to the seriousness of copyright theft as a commercial crime in the context of the modern economy. In consequence of this, section 3 of the Bill amends section 27 of the 1963 Act, as amended by the Copyright (Amendment) Act, 1987, providing for a regime of penalties in respect of copyright offences very much more severe than that contained in the existing legislation. Specifically, it provides for fines of up to £1,500 per offending item or up to one year's imprisonment, or both, in respect of summary convictions for copyright offences in the District Court, and for fines of up to £100,000 or up to five years' imprisonment, in respect of convictions for copyright offences on indictment in the higher criminal courts.
It is not proposed to amend the specification of copyright offences contained in section 27 of the Copyright Act, 1963, in the context of the present Bill. This specification can only be modernised in conjunction with the general modernisation of copyright legislation, and will, therefore, be dealt with in the forthcoming Copyright and Related Rights Bill.
The Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 1998, is a limited measure, but it must be judged in the context of the Government's copyright policy as a whole. Taken in conjunction with recent Garda successes in combating copyright piracy — on which I trust the force will accept my heartiest congratulations — and with our commitment to urgent and fundamental reform of the copyright system as a whole, the Bill should be seen as a clear signal of the Government's determination to see that a modern, effective and efficient system of protection is provided for copyright and related rights, and that those who would profit unfairly from the fruits of the intellectual labours of others are confronted and defeated.
I am confident of the shared determination of Members to progress this major area of the reform of our law which is of vital importance to the continued health, not only of our cultural life, but of Irish industry in the information age. I look forward to positive and constructive debate, not only on this Bill, but on the greater measure of copyright reform soon to come before this House, of which the present Bill is the merest harbinger.
I commend the Bill to the House.