Two Contradictory Paths In The UK When It Comes To Copyright Issues

from the which-one-is-more-reasonable dept

It’s been a bit hard to understand what’s been going on in the UK concerning copyright reform when we keep hearing two very contradictory messages. On one side, there’s the ridiculous Digital Economy Act, which was proposed by the unelected, debated by the ignorant and voted on by the absent in order to put in place much stricter copyright laws, including putting much of the burden on online service providers. That process is continuing to expand with plans to make the censorship part of the bill even clearer. Those behind the law, when pressed, admitted that they had absolutely no evidence to support the claimed need for this law.

And yet, while all of this was happening, there was also the Hargreaves Report, which was a very reasonable look at copyright issues, which listed out a bunch of pretty tame recommendations (so tame that creating a “fair use” policy was seen as too controversial). Of course, it also was pretty clear that the UK should stop its faith-based copyright regulating, and no more changes should be made to the laws without solid economic evidence.

So guess which process is getting attacked? You guessed it. The latter process, as Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Wishart apparently went on the attack against the Hargreaves report and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) that commissioned it. Peter Bradwell, over at the Open Rights Group, hits back by noting that it’s pretty ridiculous to question the IPO while ignoring everything going on with the Digital Economy Act, which came out of a different part of the goverment: the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Bradwell’s article breaks down the differences here:

So to caricature the two departments: one is asking for evidence and consulting widely and openly. One has spent the past few years consulting narrowly, opaquely, and with no evidence or analysis to speak of.

The IPO come under fire in Peter Wishart’s speech for being sloppy with evidence and ignoring the creative industries. DCMS’ proposals are to be ‘got on with’. He calls the IPO ‘a bureaucratic front to devalue the people whom it is supposed to support’ which the Government must ‘get to grips with’. 

That is slightly strange. The issue of policy making for copyright involves managing a complex mix of evidence, principle and opinion. Disagreement, and the management and channeling of that disagreement in the formulation of policy, are two separate things. Whatever position one takes on the substance of this debate about IP, there is a right way and a wrong way to make public policy.  It has to be democratically legitimate, open, transparent and involve proper debate. Over the past 12 months, the IPO has beaten DCMS hands down on that metric. 

Yeah, but being open, transparent and relying on actual evidence isn’t just hard work — the big content gatekeepers don’t like it when that happens. And we have to support them at all costs, apparently…

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Comments on “Two Contradictory Paths In The UK When It Comes To Copyright Issues”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Yup, the recommendations were tame and got attacked as if they were going to destroy the fabric of civilisation itself.

The problem seems to be that politicians and governments, just like everyone else are all in favour of evidence based policy as long as the evidence supports their view on what the policy should be.

But there aren’t just those two views, there’s the third, the capture of law enforcement to do the bidding of vested interests as demonstrated yesterday in that bizarre SOCA warning page on rnbxclusive which very much reads like it was written by the IFPI.

G Thompson (profile) says:

“proposed by the unelected, debated by the ignorant and voted on by the absent”

Please someone ring the Oxford Dictionary people. This is by far the most succinct description of modern politics that as ever been written.!

Think I’ll mount this on a wooden plaque to bash public servants (and pollies) over the head with when they come to my offices

Call me Al says:

I’m just thankful that its an MP for the Scottish National Party and not for one of the two parties in the Coalition Government.

Also worth noting that, according to Wikipedia:

“Wishart is a founder member of the parliamentary rock group MP4. The other members are Ian Cawsey (bass guitar and vocals), Greg Knight MP (drums) and Kevin Brennan MP (lead guitar and vocals).”

and they’ve played with Feargal Sharkey.

The cynic in me would therefore suspect that this MP has been for dinner with Mr Sharkey (boss of one our RIAA equivalents) recently and we all know what happens when UK MPs meet industry people for dinner.

Duke (profile) says:

Quite straightforward

It’s quite straightforward really, we have a coalition government. Each Party controls one of the relevant departments, and they’re fighting over control of these things.

On one side you have the Conservatives who, along with Labour (in power when the DEA was passed) were very heavily lobbied over this sort of thing (lots of private meetings, tickets to events, that kind of stuff).

On the other side, you have the Lib Dems, who are answerable to their members on policy grounds, and have a few vocal MPs who understand the Internet (and evidence). They were a minor force during the DEA debate, so seem to have been mostly ignored re lobbying.

At the moment, the Conservatives control DCMS (the Department of Culture, Media and Support) which is under Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey (the latter has been running the closed-door meetings on web-blocking), which has been pushing for a larger clampdown on copyright (as you might expect from a “Media” department; i.e. answerable to the big media giants). Then the Lib Dems control DBIS (the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) – under Vince Cable (who announced the plans to shelve the web-blocking parts of the DEA) – which has the policy brief for the DEA, runs the IPO and which is answerable to businesses, and cares about innovation etc.

It’s not all that hard to see why there might be conflict here…

That said, the IPO isn’t completely unbiased; one of their recent reports contained a wrongly-applied, inaccurately-copied, wrongly-cited (and with an obvious typo) statistic for losses, from a copyright industry (I think Hollywood) source, based on a paper, quoting the draft results of a survey, noting that it was changed in the final version, which was never published. It’s quite impressive that they managed to get nearly every step of that wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:


‘The cynic in me would therefore suspect that this MP has been for dinner with Mr Sharkey’

bet you’re not far wrong there! also sounds to me that he has about the same amount of knowledge concerning copyright and the internet, as Vaizey and Hunt. add that to their obvious refusal of the evidence in the Hargreaves report (which was commissioned by the Conservative government!) and the ‘no evidence to support the need for the DMCA’ anyway, and the UK is in as deep a corporate pile of shit as the US! plus, it was announced last week that more website blocking is going to start in the UK (i assume this is the first), despite Viviane Reding of EU stating ‘it’s not the EU way’. also consider that when Sharkey was ‘an up and coming artist’ he RELIED HEAVILY ON BOOTLEG TAPES OF HIS MUSIC TO GAIN FAME. funny how it managed to change him once he got it and then became head of the BPI

Duke (profile) says:

I don’t know about Wishart in particular, but there does seem to have been a dinner, which MPs were present at, “celebrating the work of Feargal Sharkey at UK Music” only a couple of weeks ago.

Louise Mensch (the source for that) is another of those hardline pro-copyright types, and just happens to be an author and married to the manager of some high-profile 80s pop groups.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

A World Without IP

I would love to see a properly conducted economic study of what the US (better the world) would look like if copyright and patents were removed from the equation.

We were close to such an environment in the past, but there were still guilds and such interfering with a truly open system. We also did not have the great equalizer we call the Internet then.

Such a study would not be able to predict ALL of the possibilities, as mankind has a great imagination and will find ways that cannot be predicted. If we look at the early US, a great amount of prosperity occurred by ignoring patents and copyright. What if the whole world went that way, would we see such prosperity again?

Don’t forget to account for all the defensive posturing like the lawyers who hurt progress by suing everybody in sight and the defensive patents being purchased because they have to. Where would that money go? What would the impact on GDP be?

What would the likely methods of initially funding the creative processes; patronage? incremental payments? selling scarcity not content? The advertising model would certainly continue, but we could remove the costs of the middlemen. Would that be enough?

Would new funding sources suddenly make sense? Would the elimination of the cost defending your position leave enough to support creativity in a reasonable manner?

Is there a middle ground that makes sense?

I have neither the data nor the statistical skill to conduct such a study, but someone might.

I would leave trademark in place, but in a very narrow arena with huge penalties for attempts to stretch whatever rule is created. Eliminate the concept of all other IP.

Violated (profile) says:


How it would be nice for Governments to step back and to examine the market as it is and the ongoing changes. Then to only fix problems where real economic damage is seen to occur.

Copyright enforcement is always balanced against public rights which means to increase enforcement without examining the claimed damages only results in a direct attack on the very public that they were elected to serve.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

A World Without IP

Civilization lasted for thousands of years without either copyright or patent law. In fact, most of the developments needed for the Industrial Revolution to begin and, in the early days, continue occurred in such an environment.

If most of the stories surrounding the passage of the Statue of Anne which brought the concept of copyright to the English speaking world the primary reason for it coming into being was to protect publishers from themselves in that they’d publish the same title at the same time putting themselves in danger of going under. Particularly if the author was popular. The states reason in the preamble to the statue was to encourage education not make publishers wealthy.

Patent law largely came around so that advancements in engineering and design would become public instead of trade secrets where the trade off was a monopoly for a limited (LIMITED) period of time.

Both worked reasonably well until the Internet came along and disturbed(!) the assumptions both copyright and patent law were based on. That is that it’s expensive to create a copy of something in time, effort and money and then to share/sell them. In the case of a lot of so-called intellectual property that isn’t the case anymore. In fact the effort needed to copy something like a song, book, video or movie is relatively trivial.

In the case of “real world” developments, if one ignores the lunacy of patents on business processes and software, as the 3D printer moves ever closer to reality and ever closer to a consumer product a large part of the reason for a monopoly in things covered by patents begins to vanish. As would the effort required to develop and test and prove such items. (Big Pharma excluded if only because of the complexity of the products and the potential danger of them.)

None of this means that the creators themselves shouldn’t have some reward for their work. But, frankly, most of them don’t under current laws given the incredibly creative accounting of the people they sign their rights over to or are compelled to by employment contracts. We may have to come up with some other framework than the what we have now. One that allows creators to keep control of their work as the cost of production of their work has fallen off dramatically.

Face it, if I come up with a better widget, patent it and all that there is nothing at all to stop the guy down the street from reverse engineering it putting the data into a 3D printer and come up with better widgets indistinguishable from mine,covered by my patent.

Another observation here is that people and companies seem only to become IP maximalists AFTER they assemble a couple of warehouses full of the stuff whereas before they were likely doing end runs around existing copyright and patent law to develop their own products.

The reverse side of that is that countries only start to care when they have a few battleships full of the stuff whereas before, like the United States as it was developing and up to something like 55 or 60 years ago didn’t give a damn about patents and copyrights held in other countries.

We’ve already had a world without IP and it worked just fine. Right now the world with IP seems to be charging down a path to take civil and moral rights away from citizens for the enrichment and preservation of a few corporate entities. Note the I deliberately left out creators. They’re still stuck in creative accounting hell no matter what system’s in use.

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