UK Report on IP and Economic Growth

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice

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In the last week a major report has been released in the UK on the state of IP and economic growth.

This is really quite significant because what it serves to do is to look at the issues of copyright and patenting not from the subjective point of view of corporations in the content industry, but rather from the point of view of the economic health of a nation.

When you look at copyright from that point of view you have to look at the flow of money and not the rhetoric from specific corporate interests.

This report is effective in separating signal from noise, and from the outset establishes its credentials by noting that most of the corporate sponsored reports about piracy have little basis in fact.

The report also notes that it is useless to criminalize consumers for doing that which they should be expected to be doing by virtue of the technology that they have access to. For instance, under UK copyright law (as in many other countries) it is actually illegal to copy the music on a CD that you own to the hard drive of your computer and then to shift that onto your iPod. It seems pretty reasonable to suggest that the idea of this activity being illegal when everyone who owns a computer and an iPod does it, is ridiculous.

Similarly it is ridiculous to expect people to be disallowed from the use of a piece of content if they can’t find who the owner is in order to request a license – so-called “orphan IP”

Here is a summary of the recommendations of changes to law in the UK in order to enhance economic activity in the UK with regard to IP:

•    an efficient digital copyright licensing system, where nothing is unusable because the rights owner cannot be found;
•    an approach to exceptions in copyright which encourages successful new digital technology businesses both within and beyond the creative industries;
•    a patent system capable of preventing heavy demand for patents causing serious barriers to market entry in critical technologies;
•    reliable and affordable advice for smaller companies, to enable them to thrive in the IP intensive parts of the UK economy;
•    refreshed institutional governance of the UK’s IP system which enables it to adapt organically to change in technology and markets.

In regard to copyrights specifically the report suggests:

“In order to boost UK firms’ access to transparent, contestable and global digital markets, the UK should
establish a cross sectoral Digital Copyright Exchange. Government should appoint a senior figure to oversee its design and implementation by the end of 2012. A range of incentives and disincentives will be needed to encourage rights holders and others to take part. Governance should reflect the interests of participants, working to an agreed code of practice. 

The UK should support moves by the European Commission to establish a framework for cross border copyright licensing, with clear benefits to the UK as a major exporter of copyright works. Collecting societies should be required by law to adopt codes of practice, approved by the IPO and the UK competition authorities, to ensure that they operate in a way that is consistent with the further development of efficient, open markets.

I think this approach would be extremely helpful in Australia too.

We have exactly the same issues here. We are slavishly responsive to American copyright ownership interests here in Australia. While these may be of benefit to the corporations that promote this activity, it is not necessarily to the benefit of the Australian economy. What we need here is to be able to work within the international legislative frameworks that we have subscribed to, but in a way so as to encourage economic activity here.

This means that we must reduce the potential for criminalization of consumers for using copyights in minor ways – such as sync to a YouTube video – and instead encourage payment for copyright use of all kinds at a rate that is commensurate with the use itself, i.e pennies rather that dollars.

If anyone feels strongly about this please get in touch with me. I am keen to put together a group of people who will be prepared to actively engage in discussions on this topic with both government and with societies that represent copyright owners.

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