Gowers Report On Intellectual Property Too Balanced For Its Own Good
from the as-you'd-expect dept
There’s been a lot of speculation on the “Gowers Report” in the UK, looking at how intellectual property laws should be modernized. Most of the talk has focused on the question of copyright extension, since some copyrights on pop songs performed 50 years ago may soon hit the public domain. As was widely expected, the report suggests that copyright not be extended — which is why the British recording industry is already suggesting the government should ignore the report.
However, there’s a lot more in the report, and not all of it’s good. It tries to walk the fine line of balancing things out for both the industry and consumers — but in doing so makes the false assumption that this is some sort of fight between each side, and what one gives up, the other gains. That’s not true, even though it seems like many people on both sides believe it is. However, it should be pretty clear that that’s a dangerous assumption. Any industry grows not by fighting with its customers, but by providing them value so that both sides are happy with the transaction. This fight over copyrights isn’t based on who gets more control. The idea of “balance” creates the wrong way of thinking about things. However, in the name of balance, the report suggests increasing the penalties for certain copyright violations (including making punishment for downloading much harsher), while crafting “exceptions” for personal copying (though, of course, there are those in the industry whining about those exceptions too). The more the focus is on this false balance, the more you’re going to have each side pulling for their own minor claims, rather than recognizing that they need to rethink how they view the space. That means, everyone is going to fight about their own exceptions and amendments, leading to a bureaucratic nightmare that helps no one.
There are apparently (though this doesn’t seem to be covered in great detail anywhere) some articles saying the report also says that UK patent law needs to be reformed. The article is quite vague, only saying that there should be better support for companies doing business outside of the UK in such places like India and China. It mentions, again, the idea that balance is important, saying: “The ideal IP system creates incentives for innovation, without unduly limiting access for consumers and follow-on innovators.” That’s true, but also somewhat meaningless. Of course that’s what an ideal IP system does — but does the current system succeed? What if the system doesn’t create the proper incentives and does a better job hindering innovation than helping it? And, therein lies the other big problem with “balance.” It talks up a lot of fluff, and in the end, pleases no one.