18 May 2011

Copyright review urges overhaul of intellectual property law

Intellectual property laws designed to protect artists and writers, and dating back to the 18th century, are impeding UK businesses as they strive to compete global markets, a new report has found.

A review has urged reform of UK intellectual property law (Getty)

Digital Opportunity, a review of Britain’s intellectual property law by Professor Ian Hargreaves, says the the country’s outdated copyright laws are today inhibiting medical research, industrial activity and “a burgeoning service economy based upon the internet”.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations, including –

– establishment of an online “copyright shop” selling copyright licences
– the Intellectual Property Office should ensure promotion of innovation and growth
– government should not over-regulate so as not to diminish “incentives to creators”
– government should manage the boom in patent applications
– government should pursue an “integrated approach” to enforcing IP rights
– UK should pursue international interests in the field of intellectual property
– UK should boost UK firms’ access to transparent, global digital markets

Professor Hargreaves said his review was intended “to enhance the economic potential of the UK’s creative industries and to ensure that the emergence of high technology businesses, especially smaller businesses, in other sectors is not impeded by our IP laws”.

Business Secretary Vince Cable praised the report for highlighting “real scope for changes to copyright laws which could add enormous value to the UK economy”.

The report highlights real scope for changes to copyright laws which could add enormous value to the UK economy. Vince Cable, Business Secretary

Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis said the review’s proposals for modernisation and change were “common-sense proposals”, although he stressed “there is clearly detailed work to be done to ensure there are no unintended consequences”.

He told Channel 4 News he was delighted that Professor Hargreaves had rejected the US “fair use” approach to copyright exceptions, which allows limited use of copyrighted material without the user have to acquire permission from the rights holder. “That would not be desirable in terms of jobs and growth in the UK,” he said.

Mr Lewis warned that the “elephant in the room” in relation to today’s report was the last government’s Digital Economy Act, several of whose sections – in particular those relating to online copyright infringement – are currently subject to judicial review.

Susie Winter, Director General of the Alliance Against IP Theft, which speaks on behalf of IP stakeholders in the UK, said: “Government needs to partner industry in addressing the enormously damaging problem of fake goods being sold online.

“Policy, clearly, needs to be based on evidence and we fully support Professor Hargreaves’ comments that the neglecting of design within IP policy must stop.”

There is clearly detailed work to be done to ensure there are no unintended consequences. Ivan Lewis, Shadow Culture and Media Secretary

Myles Jelf, IP partner with intellectual property specialists Bristows, said the review’s proposals were “plausible and achievable”.

He agreed that it had adopted the correct approach in rejecting fair use. “In practice, we already have fair dealing in UK law, he told Channel 4 News. “It’s sensible to say we don’t need to start copying the US because we already have versions of that.”

On the issue of currently illegal “format shifting” – whereby music, for example, is transferred from a CD onto a computer or MP3 player – Mr Jelf agreed with the review’s observation that there is no strong evidence of harm to rights holders done by this kind of private copying.

“Once people know something as common as that is not permitted, it makes it harder to deal with more extreme activities that really should be dealt with,” he said.