ContractAlert - January 2014

Welcome to the January 2014 edition of ContractAlert.

Defamation law update

The Defamation Act 2013 and associated regulations came into force on 1 January 2014.  They bring a number of major changes to UK defamation law.

  • Under the new law, a claimant must show that serious harm has been caused; the serious harm must be financial in the case of commercial organisations.
  • The main defamation defences have been updated and placed on a statutory footing (with some terminological tweaks - "justification" is now "truth", and "fair comment" is now "honest opinion").
  • There is a new website operators' defence, which may protect an operator from claims concerning user-generated content, providing certain procedures are followed. Best practice under the associated regulations requires the use of a designated email address or contact form for the communication of complaints.
  • A "single publication rule" has been introduced, meaning that an online "publication" (for the purposes of defamation) will not be repeated each time defamatory content is accessed. This has implications for the limitation period, which is relatively short at 1 year.
  • There are new rules allowing judges to order the publication by media organisations of summaries of legal defeats.

I'll be writing on the SEQ Legal blog about some of these changes next week.

Software functionality not copyrightable

The Court of Appeal confirmed in SAS Institute Inc v World Programming Ltd that software functionality – as opposed to software code – may be copied without infringing copyright. Moreover, a software licence cannot prevent the licensee from studying software in order to replicate it. A sensible result, if not a surprise for copyright professionals.

Fine spam news

The Information Commissioner's Office has fined payday loans company First Financial £175,000 in connection with the sending of millions of SMS messages without consent. In excess of 4,000 complaints were received by the ICO.

Separately, a fine of £300,000 imposed by the ICO against Christopher Niebel in respect of unsolicited SMS messages was overturned by the Information Rights Tribunal, which found that that the messages had not caused enough damage or distress to warrant the penalty. The ICO is appealing.,%20Christopher%20EA.2012.0260.pdf

New copyright exceptions

UK copyright law will be changing on 6 April 2014. In the name of deregulation, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills plans to introduce no less than nine separate sets of regulations to amend the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.  These new laws will likely cover:

  • collecting societies; and
  • exceptions for archiving and preservation, quotation, educational use, use by disabled people, private study, use in analytics, parody and private copying.

EU copyright developments

In parallel, the European Commission has launched a consultation on the updating of the EU's copyright laws, and will be considering whether to push for unification and total harmonisation of EU copyright law.  At present, copyright remains a national right, albeit those national rights have been partially harmonised across the EU.

Contributions must be submitted to the Commission by 5 February 2014.

SEQ Legal templates

All of our website terms of use documents, privacy policy documents and website terms of sale documents have been updated since the last edition of ContractAlert. If you purchased one of these documents in the last 12 months, you are entitled to a copy of the updated version. Please email me for copies.

New templates since the last ContractAlert include specialist terms and conditions for financial websites, legal websites, club websites, Q&A websites, school websites and news websites.  See:

Comments and questions

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