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IPO: Should stand for Intellectual Property Obliteration

Sir Humphrey's onslaught on creators' rights

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Access to markets is a human right

There's also something that has discombobulated the IPO in recent weeks - the threat of a challenge to the proposed digital land grab under the Human Rights Act. Access to markets is a human right, and agents (including government organisations) who destroy market opportunities appear to be liable for prosecution.

The IPO's Quilty told MPs he was surprised to learn of this issue recently, and wished a government lawyer had told him about it before. This suggests that the IPO are rather deaf to the representations of the sectors they're supposed to support and promote - but no surprise there.

There were also telling omissions. Quilty said that Google Books had been just the kind of innovation that the UK needed from IP reform. That's the Google Books settlement that was found to be constitutionally illegal because it violated authors' rights. (Note how in other countries, their creators get support from the very top.)

MPs will have noted the difference between the IPO's cavalier dismissal of industry evidence, versus the very questionable quality of their own. MPs also seemed surprised and frustrated that six months on from the delivery of its report, the Hargreaves Review had got nowhere. Nobody has been appointed to run the Digital Copyright Exchange. Consultations haven't started yet.

The Powers That Be

Perhaps it's naive to expect politicians to expend valuable political capital on fighting the permanent bureaucracy - where's the upside? But one thing ministers of all hues hate is nasty surprises. They rely on experienced civil servants to alert them to possible bad news. They want them to solve problems, not create new ones.

A human rights legal challenge to Extended Collective Licensing - or any part of the Hargreaves suggestions - could tie down the government for years and cost millions. And when civil servants are asked to produce evidence to support policy and instead come up with a "conversation starter" they're left horribly short of ammo.

Now this isn't to say IP-based industries, no matter how important they are to the economy, should have everything their own way - they shouldn't. Some industries were slow to respond to the challenge of digital networks, and all have failed to build the platforms they should own and control.

But it was apparent that the IPO has long had a clear agenda of its own: and it won't easily be swayed. Every time rights-based industries attempt to explain their position - or strengthen it - IPO officials tell ministers it's too complicated, too difficult, or the industry representatives don't understand the industry they work in.

The IPO did all three yesterday.

What intellectual property faces is quite unique to any industrial sector. It faces a hostile network of academics and pop-up lobbyists, funded by backward-looking and protectionist service companies who live off content produced by others, and a permanent bureaucracy which seems devoted to ensuring the case either isn't made or is misrepresented.

Other successful British business sectors enjoy public resources devoted to promoting them - including specialist teams at Whitehall. This is all considered good for UK Plc. IP must be the only industrial area with a permanent bureaucracy apparently devoted to weakening it. ®

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