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Copyright minister admits: Google has better access to No. 10 than me

Downing Street overrun with whispering Oompa-Loompas

Google's Mountain View headquarters

Google has greater access to No. 10 Downing Street than the government's own ministers, one such minister has admitted.

Viscount Younger of Leckie, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Intellectual Property - the third copyright minister in a year - made the candid confession before the Media, Culture and Sport parliamentary Select Committee on Tuesday.

Younger was asked by Labour MP Jim Sheridan about the multi-layered and close relationship between No. 10 and Google.

"I'm very aware of [Google's] power, put it that way," Younger replied. "I've also very aware that they have got access, for whatever reason, at higher levels than me at No. 10."

Asked to elaborate on this fascinating insight, Younger responder:

"They are a vociferous action group and a big company to put it bluntly, and are quite powerful".

Labour's Ben Bradshaw quoted remarks made by potential investors to music publisher Andy Heath:

This Government hates copyright and will bring in even more laws to help Google steal more music than it does today - so why should we invest in you?

"I don't recognise that view of copyright. My role is as looking at both sides," responded Younger, who could be seen being handed written notes by the Intellectual Property Office's "director of copyright enforcement" Ed Quilty, Britain's unelected copyright czar. It's reassuring to know Younger is on top of his brief.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey attempted to dig his BIS colleague out of trouble - pointing out that when he met Google, the MPAA or BPI were also in the room, shouting at Google. But that's by the by: Younger was talking about Google's friction-free access to No. 10 itself.

The remarks will renew interest in Conservative 2.0's close links with the Californian-based advertising giant, which makes its billions by the use of other people's copyrighted content in various ways - usually without paying for it.

"I've talked to [Number 10] and been told, 'you don't know how much pressure we're under from Google'", Heath told the DCMS committee last year.

The relationship has manifested itself in some unusual ways. The Government has formally endorsed Google's unsurprisingly large estimate of its contribution to British GDP - one which doesn't stand up to any real scrutiny. Chancellor George Osborne has written jointly by-lined articles with Google chairman Eric Schmidt. And David Cameron launched an exercise to weaken "modernise" copyright by citing a fictional Google quote. It rapidly earned the nickname "the Google Review". And now we have the "Instagram Act".

The warm relationship between the denizens of Downing Street and the Chocolate Factory goes back a way. In 2007, Google paid for Cameron and Osborne's jaunt around California.

Back in Parliament this week the committee MPs questioned why the Government should put the private interests of wealthy American corporations - well known not to pay any significant taxes on profits from their massive UK revenues - over the cultural and economic health of the UK.

"You keep talking about listening to both sides," said Bradshaw. "But in the end you have to come down and make a judgement on the British economy. That's going to be a political choice."

He continued:

"And I would suggest that your balancing of the interests of Google and the internet anarchists alongside our hugely important creative industries is not taking a responsible position in what is Britain's national economic interest."

The Minister reply was telling. Transcribed verbatim, the Minister for Intellectual Property replied:

"The answer is, of course, I shall look at the evidence. But I will look at the other evidence too. When it comes to education, is it right that we batten down the hatches and put a blanket on historians who write history books and they're not allowed to be given to schools, for example."

How baffling. Quilty may hand him the words, but it isn't clear the Minister can follow a script. ®

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