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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Filed Under: blocking, censorship, copyright, dcms, hargreaves, ipo, reform


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  1. icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), 15 Feb 2012 @ 4:01pm

    Re: 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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