UK Copyright Review Hardly Surprising Or Radical; But Will Face Opposition

from the it's-a-step dept

As expected the so-called Hargreaves Review of copyright laws in the UK has been released, and it makes a bunch of not-particularly-radical suggestions on how to improve copyright law, many of which showed up five years ago in the Gowers Report, and were then promptly ignored by the UK government. There are definitely plenty of good suggestions in the report -- legalizing format shifting for personal use (technically, in the UK, ripping a CD is illegal), increasing the usability of orphan works, and legalizing a wider range of transformative uses. It also suggests setting up an agency that will "mediate" between copyright holders and those wishing to license music. All of these make some amount of sense, given the situation we're in today (not all make sense if we were given a blank slate, but we weren't...).

I mean, how can you complain about a report, that right at the very beginning states:
Copying should be lawful where it is for private purposes, or does not damage the underlying aims of copyright...
Simple, straight-forward, to the point, and quite reasonable. Which is why the copyright maximalists will hate it.

The report -- as expected -- falls short of saying the UK should replicate US style fair use rules, even though some of the committee members appear to have supported such a move. However, it does mock the claim from US-based filmmakers, that a US-style fair use law in the UK would stifle innovation there, noting that it was odd that the success of these firms -- with such a fair use policy in the US -- "does not stop important American creative businesses, such as the film industry, arguing passionately that the UK.. should resist the adoption of the same US style Fair Use approach with which these firms coexist in their home market."

There are some other good points in the report, such as pointing out that the UK needs to end ratcheting up copyright laws on faith-based, rather than evidence-based claims from the industry. In fact, it spends a lot of time pointing out the importance of using actual evidence in changing policy. It's so rare to see that in government discussions of intellectual property, so it's quite nice to see so much attention paid to it here. It specifically calls out the reality distortion field that the entertainment industry uses with politicians to influence policy:
"Lobbying is a feature of all political systems and as a way of informing and organising debate it brings many benefits. In the case of IP policy and specifically copyright policy, however, there is no doubt that the persuasive powers of celebrities and important UK creative companies have distorted policy outcomes. Further distortion arises from the fact (not unique to this sector) that there is a striking asymmetry of interest between rights holders, for whom IP issues are of paramount importance, and consumers for whom they have been of passing interest only until the emergence of the internet as a focus for competing technological, economic, business and cultural concerns."
The report also touches on patent issues (to be honest, I had no idea that was to be covered), and points out that patents should not be extended into "non-technical" software or business methods without "clear evidence of benefit." It also highlights the harm done by patent thickets. In a huge surprise to me, it even includes the mobile phone patent thicket graphic I created last year (what, no royalties? -- joking, joking...) to demonstrate the insanity of patent thickets.

I was somewhat worried about the section that noted that "enforcement" and "education" are important when it comes to copyright -- because that directly contradicted the much more comprehensive recent SSRC report that found that neither education nor greater enforcement had any real impact. However, I was happy (but not surprised) to see Hargreaves refer multiple times to the SSRC report in highlighting these very issues in that section. While it still recommends "enforcement and education," it does so guardedly, and seems to suggest that the actual impact and effect of such policies should be carefully monitored to see if they really have any impact.

In the end, as with the Gowers Report, the sense I get is that there are a lot of good, smart, thoughtful, very modest, recommendations in there, and that the report likely pulled some punches, knowing that the report had to have some compromise and "moderation." But, I'm willing to bet that, as with the Gowers Report, even if politicians claim they'll listen to the recommendations, little (if anything) will change. Instead, we'll go back to the same old setup. The improvements suggested in the report won't show up in any actual legislation, but increasingly draconian, faith-based changes will continue to be pushed (successfully) by lobbyists. This is definitely an excellent report, but I'm skeptical that it will have the impact it should have.
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Filed Under: copyright, fair use, hargreaves, patents, uk


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  1. icon
    krusty-g (profile), 18 May 2011 @ 5:24am

    The maximalist take

    If you want to see how the hardcore IP enforcers view it, have a read of http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/18/hargreaves_summary_and_first_reaction/
    PS: If you're not aware of that authors other work, it's painful. No comments allowed on most stories (email direct to author so he can cherry pick), and in the ones where you can anything contradicting him is screened. Also, he's master of the straw-man, he's like a voodoo priest or something.

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