MPs wrestle slippery bureaucrats in intellectual property Jell-O
'Evidence base weak' for IP, says UK's IP top cop
Analysis The all-party group of MPs looking into the UK's looming obliteration of copyright rounded on their quarry yesterday - and it turned out to be an enthralling battle of wits.
John Alty and Edmund Quilty of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) were quizzed on their controversial role in maintaining - or failing to maintain - protections for creative work after being invited to the informal inquiry's third evidence-gathering session in Westminster.
For over an hour the two senior civil servants showed striking indifference to Blighty's creative industries, whose existence relies on copyright law and enforcement. The pair couldn't even muster a word of lukewarm praise nor comment on said industries' economic value to UK plc.
There is one area in which Britain is indisputably world class: armed with a mother tongue that has a vast vocabulary, our mandarins have the ability to create more ways of not answering a question than anyone else. They've perfected it, in the way the Brazilians and Dutch turned football into art. Step overs, dribbles, perplexing diagonal passes into space - the lot. And the IPO officials put all those skills to work yesterday in an exhibition performance.
But the six MPs raising questions, spearheaded by John Whittingdale (Con), Pete Wishart (SNP) and Don Foster (LibDem) were wise to this - and, unlike too many parliamentarians your humble Reg hack has witnessed, they were highly effective.
They wanted answers, and working like tag-team wrestlers they struggled to pin the slippery bureaucrats down. Most points were asked several times, doggedly, in different ways. Ultimately, however, it may be what the witnesses left unsaid that made the greatest impression.
Probing questions: a pain in the neck?
The point of focus was Alty, chief of the IPO. He'd brought along Quilty, the IPO's copyright boss, whose actions had sparked this gentle probe by MPs. Quilty was sat at Alty's left, looking like a pink Sontaran battle commander.
Now, if you know your Doctor Who, you will know that the Sontarans are a fierce and cunning race of warriors, who are capable of hypnotising humans. But they have one weak spot: a "probic vent" at the back of the neck. Even a blow from a shoe on this hole can incapacitate a Sontaran. Sat directly behind Quilty, in the audience, was Ministry of Fun official Adrian Brazier.
Brazier is the digital rights lobbyists' second-favourite civil servant after Quilty, and he has led his department's implementation of the Digital Economy Act. Which, you'll notice, hasn't been implemented. Maybe his positioning was no coincidence. The DCMS man had the vent covered.
IPO Copyright and Enforcement Director
The IPO has a peculiar position. It has one function, which is merely administrative, of registering trademarks and patents. But it also has an advisory role giving ministers policy advice. Alty said it was also "influencing the global rights-granting agenda".
It's this policy creation that's united the creative sectors - a rare achievement - against the IPO and prompted much concern. Wasn't this dual role odd, asked Whittingdale? No, said Alty, the insolvency agency did much the same.
Do you see copyright as impeding innovation and growth, asked Whittingdale.
"Clearly you need a copyright system. I don't think anyone in the mainstream is really challenging that," said Alty. You could feel the "but..." approaching. "The question is where you draw the boundaries, what's the economic impact on difference arrangements, and that's the thing on which people differ, and we gather the evidence and draw a view."
One MP pointed out that Alty's mission statement for the IPO didn't include the protection or support of intellectual property (IP) industries, and in fact made it impossible to support them. Alty repeated the mission statement but at greater length. Copyright is evolving, Quilty chipped in.
Then we got down the nitty gritty: to what extent were bureaucrats not just suggesting policy but creating it, the panel wanted to know. Who makes the recommendations, asked MP Mike Weatherley.
"It's no different to any other part of Whitehall," said Alty. "You wouldn't expect a minister necessarily in a very technical area to suggest 'these are things I want you to consider'. You have to take responsibility."
Whittingdale pointed out that options for overhauling copyright - put forward by the (supposedly) independent Hargreaves Review - were radical and bound to cause controversy when aired by the IPO in a consultation.
"There had to be a rigorous examination of what options were available, what they cost… and that's one of things that has evolved in recent years in a way that wasn't before," Quilty replied. "You'll see impact assessments that support consultations, and which do look at all the options. People have to recognise that's going to be part of policy making."
Well, there's blue-sky thinking, one of the panel countered, and then there's sensible policy. You don't just put all the options out there, surely.
Don Foster tried to pin down the IPO as the source of the controversial education exception proposal in which school textbook authors are effective denied royalties: "Just for the record - you would not recommend that option?" he asked.
"I think the ministers also said…" Alty began to reply.
What about you? Do you recommend that particularly?
"Um. I think that, er… I'm in a slightly awkward position because we have to give advice to ministers, and not to all-party groups," said Alty. "We've given a pretty clear signal that's not the way we intend to go."
(There are times when public servants appear to be extremely uncomfortable with the concept of accountability - and this was perhaps one of them.)
I would have a lot more sympathy for harsher penalties
if we had a reasonable copyright period. 70 years?
Properly defined Fair use. (Including at least format shifting for personal use)
However, as we are unlikely to get proper fair use, and the chances of getting a reasonable copyright term are none-existant, i feel the "creative industries" can f*k right off.
Re: Why is your so anti-IP?
Asking for a reduction in stupid laws isnt anti-ip, its just pushback against the sort of people who believe that they have an intrinsic right to make money forever and ever.
I remind you that most artists make nothing from the record companies because of their accounting practices, which only seem to get exposed when artists finally get the money to get someone to look into it all. "Hollywood accounting" is such a common method of preventing money getting into the hands of artists, that its entered popular vernacular.
Locking up songs for at least 70 (At the moment) at the behest of the gatekeepers gains nothing for anyone except for the gatekeepers. (How much of that do you really expect the artists involved to see? honestly?).
In the real world, no-one should expect to continue making a living from something they did 70 years ago. There are things that allow you a decent living after many years. There called "Pensions". Its what everyone who doesn't have magical protection of IP law use to provide an income after 40 or so years of work. (Although, as mentioned above, that's a moot point anyway, as the record companies take most of it.)
While its true that some people have an overarching sense of entitlement, i think your wrong to think its just on one side of the argument.
Dont get me wrong, i do consider Copyright a good thing, just not the way its currently implemented, mostly for the benefit for a few large companies.
(By the Way, I have noted that the Phrase "IP" law is in general only ever used when someone is deliberately trying to confuse the three legally separate branches of law, Trademark, Copyright, and Patents, all of which I have different views on)
Re: Why is your so anti-IP?
So that's not really a nuanced position you've got there, I was hoping there was more to it.
First up, getting paid for creating something, getting paid for related stuff (e.g. a pop star advertising hair gel) and getting copyright royalties from enforcing a government granted monopoly are three seperate things. Wanting to weaken, or even remove, copyright isn't equivalent with assuming everything will be created by self-sufficient philanthropists. Again, I would assume techies would grasp this since arguments about the poorly named "free software" have been going on for a couple of decades now and whatever side of that you end up on, if someone's arguing that (for example) Google's Android programmers aren't getting paid because their stuff is released under a liberal "free software" licence is obviously trolling.
And if you're serious about that Hot Fuzz comment, you are perhaps unaware that the only justification (though generally not the historical reason) for copyright and patents is to "rip people off in the name of the Common Good" i.e. to be specific copyright is a government intervention meant to transfer money from one group to another, based on the premise that everyone will be better off under such a system. To argue against the repeal or reform of such a system (i.e. just changing the parameters of existing government intervention) with such extreme anti-government rhetoric (comparing it to the extermination of social undesirables for those that haven't seen the movie) again, just seems like trolling.