2015 has been quite an interesting year for copyright law around the world. Most of this year's copyright developments have been bad for users, but with one notable exception.
That is last July's resolution on copyright reform by the European Parliament, led by the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Pirate Party, Julia Reda.
As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes, the
specific resolution, sent several clear messages to the European Commission. Amongst these messages were that payment or permission should not be required before linking to websites or taking photographs of public buildings ("freedom of panorama"). On December 9, the Commission released a Copyright Communication (PDF) drawing on the Parliament's report, that foreshadowed the introduction of a few modest changes to European copyright law, including a few new European-wide copyright exceptions such as freedom of panorama, and text and data mining.
Against this positive movement, during 2015 there were a number of 'unfortunate' losses elsewhere. Topping the list of these surely has to be the decision of the United Kingdom High Court in June to strike down the legalization of CD ripping, to which British lawmakers had only just agreed only after years of reviews and lobbying. As a result, if anyone in the United Kingdom is still buying physical CDs nowadays, they are breaking the law if they wish to transfer the contents onto their phone or computer.
In addition, copyright term extensions took place during 2015. These include Jamaica's surprise extension of copyright by 45 years to life plus 95 years, and Canada handing over an additional 20 years to music publishers and performers. Worse may be to come in 2016, if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) comes into force. This will force six countries across the Pacific Rim to extend their term of copyright to life plus 70 years; a term that economists agree is unreasonably long to achieve its stated purpose of providing an incentive to creators. But none of these hold a candle to South Africa's proposal to create an unlimited term of copyright as a component of its proposed new orphan works regime - a proposal that could be dropped in the final law.
There were also a number of adverse moves to harshen copyright enforcement measures around the world. South Africa was a late entrant in this category, with an bill that would criminalize almost any online copyright infringement. But sweeping the field for this year's worst new enforcement measures is Australia. In short order it brought in a data retention law, a law to block copyright-infringing websites (which has already begun to be misused), as well as a three-strikes warning system for alleged infringing downloaders.