The Hargreaves Report
This article was first published in IP Magazine in May 2011
At the end of last year, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review of intellectual property law and its effect on economic growth in the UK. The review was undertaken by Professor Hargreaves, Chair of Digital Economy at the University of Cardiff, and now culminates in a lengthy report recommending wholesale changes in the strategic direction of IP policy in the UK.
The report makes 10 separate recommendations with respect to copyright law, patent law, design law and IP policy generally, all of which aim to reduce friction at the IP law/technology interface and make Britain a more desirable place to do business in digital content (the report is referred to informally as the "Google Review" after the internet giant claimed that it could not have started in Britain owing to a lack of flexibility in British copyright law).
Some of the key points to emerge from the report are discussed below.
- Copyright law in the UK, which has changed little since its conception hundreds of years ago, is supposed to act as an economic incentive for creation and growth. The report argues that copyright law is doing the opposite: it is now actually stifling growth. For example, 'ripping' music from CDs and transferring the content to MP3 players is technically copyright infringement. Yet it is so common place that it makes the law seem almost redundant. Today’s report recommends relaxing the rules around “format shifting” leaving the music and film industry free to focus on more serious issues such as internet piracy.
- The report recommends establishing a new collection style agency which will act as a “one-stop clearance shop” for clearing use of copyright protected works.
- The report recommends the creation of an efficient digital mass copyright licensing system which specifically deals with the problem of works not being able to be used because the rights owner cannot be found (so called “orphan” works). Media organisations such as the BBC often have extensive archives of copyright protected material which sit idle and are commercially off limits because the author is unknown and therefore cannot be approached for permission.
- Currently, parodied versions of copyrighted works are not permitted (the well publicised viral video 'Newport State of Mind', a parody of the song 'New York State of Mind', was removed from Youtube after complaints by the rights holders of the original song). While the report stops short of recommending adopting a US style "fair use" policy, it does acknowledge the particular benefits for economic growth that fair use exceptions have provided in the US and does so “with a view to understanding how those benefits can be most expeditiously obtained in the UK.”
- The report recommends adopting a patent system capable of preventing heavy demand for patents (so-called “patent thickets”) causing serious barriers to market entry in critical technologies. In this vein, the report supports the continued exclusion from patentability of computer programmes and business methods. It also recommends that the UK Government attaches the “highest immediate priority” to achieving a unified EU Patent Court.
It will be interesting to gauge the reaction to the report, particularly from the creative industries (who were staunchly opposed to David Cameron’s suggestion that the UK move towards a US style “fair use” system for copyright). Broadly, they are expected to welcome this report and its findings, although some have already queried how the measures will actually be implemented in practice. The report’s recommendations, if implemented, will undoubtedly signal progress for UK intellectual property law, particularly as regards copyright and will go some way to restoring intellectual property as an important tool for economic growth and stability in these financially difficult times.