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Google's copyright review: Google lays down the Google law

Dear Professor Hargreaves. This is what you will do...

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Google's contribution to the review of the intellectual property created to please Google was always going to be an important document. And here it is, typos and all; what a shame Google didn't review it on the way out of the door - some parts are unreadable.

In its essay to the "Independent Review of Intellectual Property and Growth", headed by Ian Hargreaves, Google paints a picture of a vibrant creative economy with Google at its centre. Everything Google does benefits the UK economy and creators. Newspaper publishers receive billions of links; pop stars who labour in obscurity are catapulted to fame thanks to Google. One artist now sells CDs off her own website. Imagine!

But not everything is rosy.

Echoing Prime Minister David Cameron echoing Google, we learn that: "If the UK and EU regime were to be reformed in order to better support innovation, some aspects of the US regime would be a good starting point for examination."

Word-for-word, that's exactly what the Prime Minister said when he launched the review, and gave Hargreaves his orders.

"Copyright law oversteps its purpose, and harms innovation, when it enforces rigid constraints to stifle productive and reasonable new uses of copyright works," Google writes.

Embarrassingly for Google, the submission is littered with typos - you would think somebody would have subbed it before publication. Or maybe they thought Google's work had been done elsewhere.

For example, Google argues that orphan works legislation is needed, because "the transaction costs of finding owners and licensing works needs (sic) to be as low as possible. Without this, it will only the very large existing players (sic) who seek to create new products with this unlocked content."

Eh? For a landmark policy statement, this just doesn't look very professional.

Creative industries, who are responding to the third review of the IP biz in five years, disagree with Google's analysis. They say enforcement is all but impossible. You can call the police when someone's stealing your car, but must hire expensive lawyers when someone's stealing your photographs, as former Napster attorney Chris Castle wrote recently. Sooner or later, you don't bother putting valuable stuff on the internet. How does Google address these concerns? It doesn't.

Instead, Google wants two major changes, we learn. It wants US-style Fair Use and Safe Harbour provisions imported into UK law. Google claims the success of Hollywood as vindication for the economic contribution of Fair Use.

The company also claims that jailbreaking iPhones is permitted by the flexibility of US Fair Use provisions. These are odd examples to cite.

The success of Hollywood movies predates the Fair Use (which was introduced into the 1976 Copyright Act) by many decades, however. And Apple hasn't gone after an iPhone jailbreaker in any country in the world, most of whom don't have the provisions it wants here. Google also specifically wants format shifting (compensation isn't mentioned) and exemptions for parody, archiving and research purposes.

Google is most vulnerable on its economic contribution.

It cites the report it commissioned from the Boston Consulting Group, which estimated that internet companies comprise 7.2 per cent of UK's GDP. The figure is interesting, because it matches the seven or eight per cent contribution made by creative industries to the UK.

We dealt with this creative work last October. The analysts were only able to come up with the figure because they included every single use of the internet in any transaction. So huge chunks of the transport sector (deliveries of goods bought over the internet) were included; almost any use of IT in business was also included - because businesses use the internet - geddit?

Google also claims that SMEs are confused by UK copyright exemptions, but instead of advocating better training and education, it implies that more copyright exemptions are needed.

To summarise: wherever you look, Google suggests, nobody is to blame except copyright holders - and every problem has a solution involving weakening creator's legal protections.

The report is on stronger ground by arguing that the law is complex, rather than costly or coercive.

Thirteen per cent of SMEs, says Google citing IFF Research, have had to hire a lawyer to deal with copyright issues at an average cost of £5,000. That's not a hill of beans, and even suggests the problem is wildly exaggerated.

"Of the digital SMEs who changed their products in order to avoid using copyright material, 58 per cent did so," says Google - which equally, may reflect some naivety on the part of the media2.0 websluts of the Shoreditch startup set. And few people are more naive.

However, there's little arguing with Google's case that music publishing licensing is a mess, with no pan-European path for users, and important rightsholders withdrawing from the collecting societies.

"To get a license for a single country like the UK, for example, it could be a requirement that a licensing entity enter into a pan-European deal with CELAS, PEDL, PAECOL, DEAL, a domestic deal with PRS, and local repetroire deals with GEMA, SACEM, SGAE etc for the UK just to get the withdrawn Anglo-US rights and each major European country's local repertoire licensed directly in the UK," writes Google. That's not far off the truth.

But even Hargreaves himself has noted, after a trip to Silicon Valley, that the US legal framework doesn't really dispense with IP lawyers. Legal costs are even higher in the US. ®

Bootnote

Number count:

  • Words in Google's submission to Independent Review of Intellectual Property and Growth: 796
  • Mentions of "tax", "taxation": 0

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