The British government announced today plans to “modernise UK intellectual property laws.” The plans include the establishment of a “Digital Copyright Exchange,” a digital market place where licences in copyright content can be traded, exceptions to copyright law that allow for private copying of legitimately purchased content, parodical works by performing artists and text and data mining without permission of copyright owners, and a licensing scheme for so-called orphan works (works where the copyright holder is not known). Furthermore, provisions to block websites “dedicated to copyright infringement” introduced in the Digital Economy Act 2010 have been suspended. The sending of “educational letters” to owners of internet connections used for sharing copyrighted material, however, is still going ahead. It is yet unclear how the more severe measures introduced in the Act will be implemented.
All in all, though, it’s a remarkable thing to see a government introduce new limitations, instead of extensions, to the scope of copyright law, however slight those limitations may be. In fact, this may just possibly constitute the first such case in copyright history (correct me if I’m wrong). What’s even more remarkable, however, is that the limitations are based on an independent review, Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth (2011)¹ by professor Ian Hargreaves, bypassing the culture industry lobby that usually gets to dictate any changes to the copyright legislation.
The review states, amongst other things, that “many creative businesses are experiencing turbulence from digital copyright infringement, but that at the level of the whole economy, measurable impacts are not as stark as is sometimes suggested,” that “we should be wary of expecting tougher enforcement alone to solve the problem of copyright infringement,” that “on copyright issues, lobbying on behalf of rights owners has been more persuasive to Ministers than economic impact assessments,” that “government should ensure that development of the IP System is driven as far as possible by objective evidence,” and that “policy should balance measurable economic objectives against social goals and potential benefits for rights holders against impacts on consumers and other interests.” In their announcement, the government indeed makes the pledge that “evidence should drive future [intellectual property] policy.” This would represent an important change to the one-sided, non-rational way intellectual property policies have been decided upon thus far. One can only hope that other European countries will take notice and follow the British example.
It’s, of course, ironic that it took a Tory government to finally take the social effects of intellectual property policies into account, but credit must be given where credit is due.
¹ The review can be downloaded in pdf format from here.