Feeds

Rogue IPO bureaucrats feel MPs' red-hot probe

Sudden interest in how IP policy is made

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A powerful all-party group of MPs will examine how IP policy is made in the UK in a new formal enquiry – firing a tranquilliser dart at executive agency the Intellectual Property Office.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport, will lead the group, with Pete Wishart vice-chairing, under The All Party-Parliamentary Group on IP umbrella (APIP).

"Little examination has taken place of how government itself promotes and develops the protection of Intellectual Property Rights. We want to understand how IP policy is developed and co-ordinated to see whether the current arrangements are fit for purpose," said Whittingdale in a statement introducing the review.

APIP is inviting views on "the purpose of IP"; whether we've learned anything from the interminable carousel (Gowers, Hargreaves) of IP reviews; and – rather pointedly – "how effective... the Intellectual Property Office [is] and what ... its priorities [should] be".

APIP will also ponder which set of grown-ups is best to look after the People's Revolutionary Council of Newport, as the IPO has become known. When the Coalition took office in 2010, the IPO was an executive agency of the Ministry of Fun (DCMS), but now it answers (we use the term loosely) to the Business Department (BiS).

So what prompted this?

The ideology of the IPO and its lead role in creating government policy, rather than implementing it, have provided the catalyst for enquiry, we understand. The bureaucrats effectively ripped up the UK's international copyright position, and seemingly introduced a new one by stealth. Ministers were surprised to discover that the government now advocated "the widest possible exceptions to copyright within the existing EU framework" and that "there is a need for a wider set of exceptions at EU level" [stated by the IPO here.]

It's just as well the civil service hadn't decided to unilaterally declare war on Kazakhstan. Or France.

The IPO's copyright guru, Ed Quilty [centre], on a rare public outing

In addition, a clutch of other "innovations" were quietly introduced bearing either the government imprimatur or as consultation "recommendations". Copyright businesses ranging from games to music generally don't like compulsory licensing – it removes their ability to compete and set prices for their work. What they want is access to markets. Yet the IPO recommends an open-ended "extended collective licence" (ECL) framework that potentially takes large areas of economic activity away from the private sector and into a compulsory licence framework – which would see market destruction on an enormous scale.

The net result of these decisions is to break the cross-party, cross-industry consensus that IP is by-and-large a good thing, culturally and economically – even if parts of it need bringing up to date, and copyright-holders deserve the occasional kick up the bum.

UK IP policy now marches to a very different drum: the fashionable academic thinking is that IP is an impediment to modernity, and must be hacked away wherever possible. This meets with approval from academic theorists (for whom weakening IP is another death blow to capitalism) and bureaucrats (who are elevated by such schemes). These are two groups who (coincidentally) have spent their lives avoiding markets and the private sector, and their antipathy to it is deep. But it's hard to find support shared elsewhere. There is no reason to elevate one set of prejudices at the expense of another.

The IPO's private policy-making has, in effect, been an undemocratic coup.

One economic sector that does benefit from taking creators' rights out of markets are advertising-supported American web companies – the instigators of the current round of IP thinking. Whether APIP really wants to run across this political minefield – or has the time to – remains to be seen.

We ought to note that the digital economy of the future described by Google, Facebook and Yahoo! today will be a rather smaller economy than a transactional one could be, a world in which real money changes hands. Google has devoted a decade to lobbying against IP enforcement in order to maintain its advertising-supported pre-eminence. Google is happier being a big fish in a small pond, one in which the water everyone must swim is advertising and data-mining. Apple, by contrast, has encouraged the creation of content markets, and respected IP, and worked with rights-holders. Their respective fortunes are illustrated above.

There's also an interesting footnote to all this. As one reader noted, when you take cultural production and reward away from diverse and healthy markets, and hand it to a cabal of bureaucrats, then "the only creative people will then be the bureaucrats. It is The Ultimate Bureaucrat narcissism fantasy. Weird."

Weird, indeed. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Bladerunner sequel might actually be good. Harrison Ford is in it
Go ahead, you're all clear, kid... Sorry, wrong film
Euro Parliament VOTES to BREAK UP GOOGLE. Er, OK then
It CANNA do it, captain.They DON'T have the POWER!
Musicians sue UK.gov over 'zero pay' copyright fix
Everyone else in Europe compensates us - why can't you?
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Megaupload overlord Kim Dotcom: The US HAS RADICALISED ME!
Now my lawyers have bailed 'cos I'm 'OFFICIALLY' BROKE
Forget Hillary, HP's ex CARLY FIORINA 'wants to be next US Prez'
Former CEO has political ambitions again, according to Washington DC sources
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
The total economic impact of Druva inSync
Examining the ROI enterprises may realize by implementing inSync, as they look to improve backup and recovery of endpoint data in a cost-effective manner.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.