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Alexandra Albert

(Moving) beyond parody: assessing the government’s response to the Hargreaves Review

Authors: Alexandra Albert Alexandra Albert

04 August 2011

We welcome the government’s response to Professor Hargreaves’ review of intellectual property as announced yesterday by Vince Cable. It is certainly a step in the right direction: it adopts an international perspective on the issues in order to bring the UK’s IP regime in line with the modern world, as well as in line with consumers’ reasonable expectations.

In our original response to the Review, we wondered whether the Coalition’s resolve and determination matched that of Professor Hargreaves. From the announcement, it seems it does: the government intends to take up all ten recommendations of Professor Hargreaves’ review.  In doing so, the government should be congratulated for accepting Hargreaves’ point that IP is part of a broader economic eco-system. The government could have cherry-picked individual recommendations to respond to – as has been the case with previous IP Reviews – but instead they appear committed to proceeding with an integrated framework of changes to support IP and growth.

Plugging gaps

These announcements at least tackle where the UK IP regime has been a glaring anomaly in global terms, such as the legalisation of consumer format-shifting of music and films, and the allowance of fair use for purposes of parody. Format-shifting makes sense since this practice is already widespread amongst consumers, and it can occur at zero marginal costs, having already been paid for once. The inability to use any copyrighted material for comic effect was threatening to put the UK’s regime beyond parody.

However, even with Hargreaves fully implemented we will still be in a grey area of exceptions and limitations to copyright holders’ rights rather than making the more important shift towards clear ‘rights for users’. This shift will ultimately be needed to acknowledge and maximise the crucial role users and consumers play in driving innovation in the networked creative economy – a point consistently emphasised by Professor Birgitte Andersen, one of the UK’s leading experts on the economics of IP, and Director of the Work Foundation’s new Big Innovation Centre.

Supporting new digital businesses

It is pleasing to see that recommendations from the Digital Opportunity Review such as those around a Digital Copyright Exchange being taken forward, with the government recognising the complexity of setting up such an exchange and seeking to commission the right body/persons to take a lead on this.  However, the real proof of how this model will play out remains to be seen and we eagerly await suggestions.

The UK’s Small and Medium Enterprise-dominated creative industries should be assisted by the government concern to reduce barriers to creating viable IP-using small firms, whether in existing industries or in new niches. Measures that enable the success and growth of the creative industries are vital at a time when the UK’s creative industries risk failing to stay ahead without appropriate government support.

Encouraging an open system

We also welcome the government’s decision to drop the blocking of websites dedicated to copyright, as originally proposed by the seemingly unworkable Digital Economy Act provisions. This announcement is particularly interesting given the High Court ruling last week which forced BT to block access to Newzbin2, a website for file-sharing, following legal action by the Motion Picture Association of America.

For an effective and thriving marketplace in digital creative goods and services, consumers need transparency. We welcome the measures towards transparency and openness in the government’s response and look forward to a more open and flexible copyright regime going forward. In particular, one that in no way puts the hugely important creative industries sector at risk and one that does not lose sight of the bigger picture: the long-term aspirations of our technologies, industries, and consumers.