Any Hint Of Evidence Based Copyright In The UK Seen As Nefarous Plot By Parliamentary Copyright Maximalists

from the can't-have-that dept

The laws governing intellectual monopolies in the UK are in a state of flux at the moment. After the previous government in its dying hours rammed through the shoddy piece of work known as the Digital Economy Act, the present coalition government took a more rational approach by commissioning the Hargreaves Review into the impact of digital technologies on this area. One of its key proposals was that policy should be based on evidence, not “lobbynomics”; the fact that this even needs to be mentioned says much about the way laws have been framed until now.

As a result, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has been trying to gather evidence in order to help politicians draw up new policies that correspond to the data, not just dogma. Not surprisingly, perhaps, those that have done well under the previous evidence-free approach have been mounting a rearguard action against the changes.

One of the people unhappy about both the Hargreaves Review and the IPO’s response is the UK MP Peter Wishart, who made the following comments about them in Parliament earlier this year:

Ian Hargreaves was notionally in charge of that process [of looking at digital copyright], but having observed evidence being taken, and the report and recommendations be delivered, I suggest that the hand of the Intellectual Property Office was all over it. I believe that Ian Hargreaves was perhaps a figurehead, because the IPO seems to have driven the agenda. We will discuss some of the exceptions to copyright that the IPO proposed as part of its consultation, but it has been steering the process all the way through.

What is that predicated on? It is predicated on the belief that economic evidence should be at the heart of every initiative and everything that we do concerning intellectual property law. Ian Hargreaves has been perhaps a little cavalier when it comes to intellectual property, and we could say that he has made heroic assumptions about the value of some of the proposed recommendations and exceptions.

Wishart is also the Vice Chair of something called the All Party Parliamentary Intellectual Property Group. Here’s how it describes itself:

The Group was launched in 2003 as a response to this and to create a resource for parliamentarians of both Houses interested in learning more about intellectual property (IP), its role in stimulating creativity and economic growth, how new services are developing to serve consumer needs, and the harm that can be caused when IP is not properly respected and protected.

As that makes clear, the All Party Parliamentary Intellectual Property Group is not an official UK government body, but more of a club for like-minded individuals. Earlier this year, the group announced its unofficial inquiry into how the UK government was handling intellectual monopolies:

The Group will seek to unpick the tangled web of cross-departmental responsibilities in this area by considering how policy has been developed, the effectiveness of the current approach, and whether the machinery of government can be improved for better policy formulation.

It’s hard not to see this as an attack on the IPO and its new approach — one of the six questions posed was “How effective is the Intellectual Property Office and what should its priorities be? (pdf)”. That suspicion is confirmed by the recent publication of the results (pdf).

The group’s philosophy is made plain early on in the document:

The fact that IP attracts so much interest reflects its increasing importance in our economy. Clearly IP on its own does not generate economic activity, but as a property right, it enables innovators, creators, manufacturers and designers to protect their innovation and monetise their work.

Except that copyright and patents aren’t property rights, but “a government grant of a costly and dangerous private monopoly over ideas.” Indeed, the increasing recognition that it makes no sense to treat copyright and patents as a property right really seems to stick in the craw of the parliamentary group. Here’s what it says on the subject:

We were also concerned that officials from the IPO find it difficult to describe intellectual property as a property right. It was described as a framework by one official which immediately undermines it. If the IPO sees IP as a framework then it suggests they see it as something that can be shaped and altered at will. We question whether such a laissez fair[e] attitude would be taken to other property rights and if they were, whether senior Officials and Ministers would allow such an attitude to pervade.

Note that the IPO is blamed here for simply conveying a truth that is unpalatable to the group. Elsewhere, the report tries really hard to find other reasons to blame the IPO; unfortunately, the facts keep getting in the way:

The evidence we received and heard was varied in this respect. Certainly the IPO’s role as a registration body for patents was seen as very positive as was its role in educating both consumers and business about IP.

Whoops, sounds like the IPO is doing a good job for patents, so what about for copyright?

People’s criticisms of the IPO’s policy making process appear to have been ignited by their most recent recommendations in relation to copyright. There were many groups who supported these recommendations and the process by which they came about, however a very large number did not.

Oh dear: “many groups” supported the IPO again; but luckily, others did not. That is hardly surprising, since some of the ideas being considered by the IPO would try to put a modicum of balance back in UK laws governing copyright. That’s never really happened before, thanks to the ratchet effect that has ensured the public domain has been constantly impoverished when the law is changed.

The idea that stakeholders might have to give something back to the public in the form of minimal exceptions may be unheard of, but it’s hardly unreasonable. Arguably, we need to run the ratchet back much further in order to obtain anything like a fair balance between the rights of stakeholders, and the rights of the public.

But the latter are rarely considered. Indeed, it’s significant that the world “public” isn’t mentioned once in the Parliamentary group’s new report. The nearest thing we get is “consumers”, notably in the following paragraph, which betrays a typical lack of understanding about how formerly passive consumers are morphing into active co-creators:

When the officials from the IPO gave evidence, they were very clear that they saw their role as providing balance — they see this balance as ensuring consumers can have access to content. We believe the IPO should look more carefully at how the IP framework stimulates the creation and development of new content, services, designs and other IP rich innovation as much as how existing content can be accessed. Only if they do this, will consumers of the future continue to have access to the content, products and services they enjoy.

That paragraph sums up why the All Party Parliamentary Intellectual Property Group so dislikes the IPO: the latter is trying to provide balance, and that is really the last thing that the copyright maximalists and their allies want to see here.

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Comments on “Any Hint Of Evidence Based Copyright In The UK Seen As Nefarous Plot By Parliamentary Copyright Maximalists”

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Richard (profile) says:


“We believe the IPO should look more carefully at how the IP framework stimulates the creation and development of new content, services, designs and other IP rich innovation”

Unfortunately, if and when the IPO actually does this they will discover that the simple answer is “it doesn’t”. In fact it stimulates the growth of parasitic organisations like record labels and collection societies and provides work for lawyers.

This won’t please the parliamentary group at all!

TasMot (profile) says:

IP is only property for the rightsholder

We were also concerned that officials from the IPO find it difficult to describe intellectual property as a property right. It was described as a framework by one official which immediately undermines it.

The rightsholders (i.e. the labels, publishers, etc.) seem to want to call it “their” property until it comes time to sell it. Then it is no longer property. Once it gets to the consumer, then it is only licensed and then the consumer is only allowed to do what the rightsholder wants to allow the consumer to do with it, with the ability to go back and change the rules at will. Once the consumer has paid for it, it can’t be sold, it can be taken back at any time (see Amazon story about cancelling account), and it can’t be given to anyone else and “Oh, my God”, don’t try to make a backup copy or a copy of any sort to protect your license or else. Wow, that just doesn’t sound like any property to me.

out_of the_lube says:

Sadly Peter Wishart has always been a pain in the arse

He grated his nails across a blackboard for 15 years and called the sound Runrig.
Now hes benefiting the few at the expense of the many.
He’s one of the few reasons for not wanting to vote SNP or having independence for Scotland: the thought of him being involved is anything is just wrong.
yes i am attacking the messenger not the message, sorry, but the message will be defended well enough here by wiser folk than me.

Richard (profile) says:

IP is only property for the rightsholder

No – actually the right is property – and they never sell you that.

As with land, the sale of copyrights and patents is organised via a variety of tactics designed to ensure that ordinary people never get their hands on any significant amount.

The tactics are

1) Contracts with authors/songwriters/performers etc that require them to hand over the copyrights as a condition of publicity/distribution

2) Selling these items in large job lots that are far too expensive for any ordinary person (or even group) to buy.

Dave Xanatos (profile) says:


My favorite was: “It is predicated on the belief that economic evidence should be at the heart of every initiative and everything that we do concerning intellectual property law.”

I had to read that paragraph three times before it dawned on me that he thought that using “economic evidence” was a bad thing.

‘Vice’ chair indeed. How many vices does he chair?

Anonymous Coward says:

first thing to find out is exactly what interests MP Peter Wishart and the other members of the All Party Parliamentary Intellectual Property Group have in IP? what they will/are gaining by preventing the public from having access to anything? how the hell he thinks that suppressing copyright is withholding innovation and creativity etc?

vegetaman (profile) says:


Que discrediting of the report because people just “feel” that it is wrong, and don’t you “just know” that it is a nefarious plot!?

After all, nothing goes further in this world than the feelings of politicians… Especially when they “feel” the need to get re-elected or appease their lobbyists… You just have to enjoy the “feel” of a good back scratching…

Anonymous Coward says:

what interests MP Peter Wishar

Register of Members? Interests
2. Remunerated employment, office, profession etc
I receive royalty payments from EMI and from Ridge Records for my recorded works with Runrig, with whom I serve as an unremunerated director. Addresses: EMI House, 43 Brook Green, London W6 7EF and Ridge Records Limited, 1 York Street, Aberdeen AB11 5DL.
December 2011, received ?2,177.36 from Ridge records for my published works No hours worked. (Registered 10 February 2012)
December 2011, received 2 payments of ?455.38 and ?481.40 from EMI Records for my published works. No hours worked. (Registered 10 February 2012)
I receive payments for my published works from the Performing Rights Society.

Register last updated: 30 Apr 2012. More about the Register

Say a lot on what side of the fence he is on

Chargone (profile) says:

who's plotting?

i can’t be the only one who initially read that as the Parliamentary Copyright Maximalists being the ones doing the plotting, and was thus understandably confused. (headlines tend to leave out Who was doing the ‘seeing’, as it is implied to be ‘various people, who we will tell you about/speak to in the article. also, possibly, the public.’)

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