Government stands by IP reform growth estimates despite rights holder concerns

Out-Law News | 21 Mar 2012 | 3:29 pm | 2 min. read

The Government is "not backing away" from figures outlining the apparent economic benefits to be gained from reforming UK copyright laws despite criticisms of the projections by rights holders and MPs, according to a newspaper report.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said it stood by its prediction that reforming UK intellectual property (IP) laws could result in a £7.9 billion annual growth to the UK's economy, the Telegraph has reported.

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the UK's Publishers Association, said growth estimates made by Professor Ian Hargreaves in his review of the framework were based on "incomplete" sums. Mollet criticised the role of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which forms part of BIS, in backing copyright reforms based on the figures.

"Hargreaves himself admitted that his own sums were incomplete," Mollet said in a blog. "They were indeed, lacking as they did any assessment of the impact on existing creative companies, instead focusing exclusively on a sketchy assessment on the impact on consumers and largely American internet intermediaries."

"It remains a cause of amazement that a report which self-confessed its shortcomings could nevertheless have the confidence to stride boldly into the territory of radical policy prescription. Odder still that the IPO should sign up to those proposals so enthusiastically," he said.

A Government consultation on changes to copyright law closes today. The consultation was launched late last year after the Government received a report from Hargreaves and largely backed his recommended reforms to the UK's IP framework. Hargreaves' report contained several recommendations, including liberalising the use of copyrighted works in some cases.

The Government proposes widening copyright exceptions to allow limited private copying, introducing an exemption for parody and pastiche and widening exceptions for library archivists and non-commercial researchers among other reforms. Researchers are currently not permitted to use some computerised techniques to read data from journal articles without specific permission from the copyright owners, regardless of whether or not the researcher has already paid to access that article.

Mollet is to ask the Government this week what the cost of the proposed changes will be to the creative industry, according to the Telegraph's report.

At the time of the consultation launch industry body UK Music, which represents the interests of the production side of the UK's music industry, said the £7.9 billion growth figure was "overstated and unrealistic".

"[There] is a very real danger that poorly targeted or ideologically driven changes to copyright law could instead undermine growth, both for the UK's creative sector and those digital businesses dependent upon or valuable content," it said at the time.

SNP MP Pete Wishart has described the Government's growth projections as "bonkers," according to the Telegraph's report. Wishart is part of a cross-party group of MPs currently exploring how the Government forms its policies on IP issues.

Wishart has previously said that creative industry bodies view the IPO as too influential over Government policy-making on IP.

In February Wishart recommended that the IPO be moved from BIS and instead be put under the control of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, where "the creative industries, the artists and the inventors" are already "managed". 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," Wishart said at the time.

"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," he said.

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.