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Report: 'Anti-consumer bias continues to pervade IP legislation'

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A "panel of IP experts" devised a list of 49 criteria that consumer groups in 30 countries used to assess how best the IP frameworks in those nations serve consumers. Consumers International (CI), which is a global campaign group for consumers with members including Which? and Consumer Focus in the UK, published (8-page / 1.36MB PDF) how the countries were rated in a new "watchlist".

On the 'A to D' scale the UK's IP framework rated as an overall 'C-' and is considered to the third worst of all that were assessed when it comes to serving the public, CI said.

The criteria on which the laws were assessed included the "scope and duration of copyright" that the law provides for, the "freedom to share and transfer" material and how the laws are enforced. Assessment was also given to the "freedom" of consumers to "access and use" copyright material for education, by content creators or the press and online, amongst other things.

The UK was issued with an 'F' rating – denoting an "abject fail" – over the freedom of consumers to access and use IP in their own home and in how IP laws are administered and enforced

The Watchlist report also said one of the "worst practices" that had been identified during the assessment was the EU's decision to extend the term of protection of copyright for music performers to 70 years.

In September last year the Council of Ministers voted to amend the EU's Directive on the term of protection of copyright and certain related rights. The Directive previously stated that music performers had rights to copyright protection for 50 years after recordings. The change brings performers' rights closer to those enjoyed by music composers who currently receive copyright protection on works throughout their life and for 70 years after their death.

"CI deplores the EU’s extension of the term of protection of the rights of performers and record producers from 50 to 70 years," the watchlist report said. "Although colloquially spoken of as a type of copyright, the rights of remuneration of performers and producers is more strictly a ‘related’ or ‘neighbouring right’, as opposed to an ‘author’s right’".

"The term extension makes little sense except as a measure to bolster the flagging balance sheets of big record companies. Certainly, very little of the benefit will flow to performers, most of whom are paid a fixed fee for their performances, and never see a penny of royalties. Music recordings that would have fallen into the public domain and been free for consumers to use in home recordings, mix tapes and amateur films, will now remain locked away for two more decades," it said.

CI said IP policy-makers and rights holders should "work with consumers, not against them, to avoid future mass protests over the right to access the internet without interference."

Thousands of protestors took to the streets of several European cities earlier this year to campaign against measures set out in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) after concerns were raised about the impact the international treaty could have on digital freedoms.

In the US legislators stepped back from introducing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) after a mass of online bloggers, consumer groups and website operators have also expressed their concern at the proposed laws. Major online firms, including Google and Facebook, also objected to measures in the draft laws despite advocates believing the measures are necessary to prevent foreign-based websites stealing US intellectual property.

The US Government also weighed in on the debate and said it would "not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet".

"Consumers International's IP Watchlist should be read by any lawmaker wondering how we reached such a crisis over ACTA and SOPA earlier this year and where such protests may likely crop up again," Jeremy Malcolm, senior policy officer at Consumers International, said in a statement.

"Our assessment shows that an entrenched anti-consumer bias continues to pervade IP legislation, and, if this goes unchecked, we are likely to see more protests over laws that do not reflect the legitimate rights and widespread practices of consumers in the digital age", he said.

Copyright © 2012, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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