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IPO too influential over Government IP policies, MP says

The UK creative industry believes the Government is more supportive of users' rights than those of content creators, an MP has said.08 Feb 2012

Pete Wishart said that the Government's policy-making on intellectual property (IP) and the increasing influence of the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in shaping that policy was convincing creative industry representatives "that the Government might be approaching something that could be described as anti-copyright".

"The emerging view is that the Government are more interested in pursuing the rights of those who live off the content of others, and who perhaps abuse it, rather than those who produce it in the first place," Wishart said.

"That view contends that the artist, the creator and those who are prepared to invest in a talent have become a massive inconvenience and that they are an afterthought and must be grudgingly accommodated and managed," he said. "The idea that the inventor or creator is the owner of important intellectual property rights is barely recognised."

"Whatever links they want to assert must be collectivised for the greater good. I appeal to the Government to get a grip on the issue, to take charge of it and to prevent the drift because it is not helpful. They must exercise and demonstrate effective political control," he said.

Wishart recommended that the IPO, which is part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, should instead be put under the control of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), where "the creative industries, the artists and the inventors" are already "managed," Wishart said. He also advised that a new ministerial position should be created so that one person is responsible for the "whole digital economy".

"We need one dedicated Minister of State in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, where we could have the IPO and the artists, creators and the whole sector. Putting the IPO within that Department might lead to better understanding and more sympathy for the people whom it is nominally and notionally there to serve. A Minister of State who oversees the whole digital economy could pick up issues such as intellectual property, supporting artists and major legislation such as the Digital Economy Act 2010," Wishart said in a Parliamentary debate on IP.

Wishart said that, as a result of a lack of "effective political control", the IPO had been able to "develop its own agenda and come up with the notion that copyright and intellectual property must be constrained for the benefit of users".

Wishart said it was "ridiculous" that lobbyists from the creative industries are "dismissed almost arrogantly" when they provide evidence around IP issues to Whitehall. He said that, as a result, those who do advise the Government on IP issues are "not particularly helpful," some "self-servicing protectionists" and that the Government was too keen "to please massive multi-billion dollar west-coast United States companies such as Google".

Last year academic Professor Ian Hargreaves published his review of the UK's IP framework and made several recommendations to the Government on what it could do to improve it. Wishart claimed that Hargreaves was a mere "figurehead" for the review and that IPO had in fact "driven the agenda".

Wishart questioned the economic evidence contained in the Hargreaves report and said that the figures did not add up.

"One cannot look at Hargreaves’s economic assumptions and analyses without needing a good sense of humour," Wishart said. "The first assumption that we should consider... relates to an exception for private copying for format shifting. It is incredible. We are told that implementing the recommendation for an exception for format shifting for private use would bring some £2 billion per annum to the UK economy by 2020."

"That extraordinary figure is arrived at by assuming that the absence of a private copying exception has been responsible for restraining lots of UK technology firms that have been bursting with ideas for new pieces of hardware. I think the contention is that the iPod could have been invented in this country if it was not for that pesky copyright rule, which everyone ignores anyway," said Wishart. "Seemingly, if format shifting was dealt with, the UK would be flooded with innovations. Lots of brand-new and fantastic products would materialise; the iPod would be reinvented; and millions and millions of pounds would flow into the economy. That is evidence and economic analysis Hargreaves and IPO-style."

Wishart also said that the growth figures put forward in the Hargreaves review for introducing a copyright exception for parodies of works, were "rib-tickling". He said "any suggestion that somehow our parody industry, our comedy industry, is being restrained and constrained by the lack of an exception is utter nonsense".

"Nowhere in the Hargreaves report is there a real economic impact assessment. No assessment is made of the threat to existing businesses and existing business models from the recommendations," Wishart said.

Wishart, a former member of rock group Runrig, expressed disappointment that the Government-funded body Consumer Focus seemed to defend illegal file-sharing in a recent report after Labour MP Kevin Brennan had raised the issue in the debate.

Wishart said the Government should be pestering Ofcom "daily" to get the regulator to finalise its anti-piracy code. In response Mark Prisk, BIS Minister, said that DCMS is due to make an "imminent" announcement on the issue.

Under the Digital Economy Act communications regulator Ofcom is required to publish a code of practice setting out the procedures internet service providers (ISPs) must follow to combat illegal file sharing. Ofcom published a draft code in 2010 but finalised rules have still to be published.

In its draft code of practice Ofcom said that internet users should receive three warning letters from their ISP if they are suspected of copyright infringements online. Details of illegal file-sharers that receive more than three letters in a year would be added to a blacklist, the draft code said. Copyright holders would have access to the list to enable them to identify infringers. Under the draft code, ISPs could also have to suspend users' internet access if they are found to be illegally downloading copyrighted material. The finalised code had been expected to be published last year.

The SNP's Wishart and Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster also criticised proposals announced by the IPO that could introduce a new "educational exception" to copyright.

Foster said that such an exception would mean "in effect that an author could write a textbook, one copy could be printed and thereafter multiple copies could be made in schools throughout the land for children in those schools to use, with no reward going to the author and therefore not a cat in hell’s chance of that author ever bothering to write again".

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