The Digital Opportunity report is set to shake up intellectual property laws to make them fit the digital age
The government has announced that it will be broadly backing the recommendations made in the Hargreaves Report on intellectual property (IP). The result will mean a massive overhaul of IP law that will legitimise millions of people who – technically – are breaking the law every time they copy a CD.
The announcement by government business secretary Vince Cable has generally been welcomed. In an interview on the BBC Breakfast programme, he said, “The basic reason why the Hargreaves Report is recommending radical changes is to introduce more clarity and to bring the law up to date to reflect that in the digital era the technology has gone way ahead of traditional practice.”
The most obvious effect of any laws based on the Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth report will be to legitimise the widespread practice of ripping CDs onto a computer and transferring the digital files onto a music player or phone. More than this, it allows copies to be made for all the family and includes movies on DVD.
Raises Questions That Need Answers
There could be trouble ahead for the government because the free-to-rip music and films may carry an extra charge, if the various performing rights groups’ lobbyists get their way. Frances Lowe, regulatory and corporate affairs director at PRS for Music, said, “The artist and the composer should be paid for the copying of their work so we hope, and expect, that government will introduce compensation.”
Other details have yet to be hammered out in parliament and a question that is already being asked is how can “immediate family” be defined. Will this mean a household or just parents and their children? If it means household, does that mean students sharing accommodation will be allowed to share music?
The government says that it will exclude sharing over the Internet but this will need a better definition of what constitutes illegal sharing. Will the blossoming cloud storage market allowing nominated people to access files be exempted and does the growing use of remote access by family members to a home file server constitute an infringement?
These are some of the hurdles that may delay the implementation of any IP laws.
Much of the report concerns patents, copyright and trademarks. The setting up of a Digital Copyright Exchange to provide a digital market place where copyright licences can be easily bought and sold. Hargreaves reckons this could bring in as much as £2 billion a year by 2020.
Details of how this will be arranged will be released later this year.
A government response on the Hargreaves Report implied that the curse of software patents will not be coming to our shores any time soon. It reads: “The Government will resist extensions of patents into sectors which are currently excluded unless there is clear evidence of a benefit to innovation and growth from such extension.”
Scopes Across IP Landscape
Other areas the government has highlighted in the report from Professor Ian Hargreaves, chair of Digital Economy at Cardiff University, include:
- Copyright exceptions to allow parody should also be introduced to make it legal for performing artists, such as comedians, to parody someone else’s work without seeking permission from the copyright holder.
- The introduction of an exception to copyright for search and analysis techniques known as ‘text and data mining’, allowing research scientists such as medical researchers greater access to data.
- Establishing licensing and clearance procedures for material with unknown copyright owners (orphan works). This would open up a range of works that are currently locked away in libraries and museums and unavailable for consumer or research purposes.
- That evidence should drive future policy – the Government has strengthened the Intellectual Property Office’s economics team and has begun a programme of research to highlight growth opportunities.
On this last point, the government response explained, “Too many past decisions on IP have been supported by poor evidence, or indeed poorly supported by evidence. This is true at an international level as well as domestically. The government will in future give limited weight in IP policymaking to evidence that is not sufficiently open and transparent in its approach and methodology, and we will make it clear where we are taking this view.”
Peter Bradwell, campaigner at the Open Rights Group, said that he applauded the government for wanting to modernise the copyright laws but added: “There are, however, some discordant notes in plans for the Digital Economy Act. In particular, charging people £20 to appeal against copyright warnings is unfair. The evidence against alleged infringers is likely to be unreliable. The Government should follow the IPO’s new IP crime strategy and rebuild its copyright enforcement policy from scratch, driven by evidence and a proper, public consultation.”
In a joint statement with the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA), the Chartered Institute for IT (BCS) and TechHub, Jeff Lynn, chairman of the Coalition for the Digital Economy (Coadec), said, “Those of us who believe that the future of Britain’s economy depends largely on the digital innovations occurring among the Silicon Roundabout community and throughout the country are very happy with the government’s response to the Hargreaves recommendations. We applaud strongly the commitment to making these pivotally important changes a reality, and we look forward to working with the government on the detail of each of the forthcoming proposals and consultations.”