Returning to the the Pictfor/Consumer Focus Hargreaves panel event, at the House of Commons on Tuesday evening this week, the fourth speaker on the night was James Sedry of Greenpeace, who admitted he had very little knowledge of intellectual property law and wasn't even aware of the Hargreaves review until recently but came to tell the story of how Greenpeace ran into problems in the past few months with IP. Parody is critical for campaigning. He didn't know there was a problem with it until Greenpeace produced a parody of a Volkswagen 60 second TV ad - the most shared ad online ever he said - of the little boy in a Darth Vadar costume trying to make things move with the force of his mind. Greenpeace produced a parody of the ad criticising Volkswagen's opposition to controls on carbon dioxide emissions:
The parody went viral. Four days into the release it had 2 million views and been shared 200k times on Facebook. Then it was removed by YouTube following a complaint from George Lucas. Greenpeace were shocked - they'd put a lot of money into it. But they do have well paid lawyers who took it up with Google on fair use grounds and the ad was re-instated on YouTube. That put the ball back in George Lucas' court - he can now take the matter up directly with Greenpeace if he wishes. After two months Greenpeace has not yet heard from his lawyers.
The video was offline for two weeks during a key part of the Greenpeace campaign and Mr Sedry reckons it damaged the campaign. He is concerned that smaller grassroots organisations will not take the risk of running this kind of parody.
There was a slightly bizarre set of exchanges then when the chairman, Mr Dowd MP, put Mr Sedry - a copyright novice - on the spot by asking him how he would shape copyright parody exceptions. The Greenpeace man talked about maybe allowing non commerical parody and the whole thing got side tracked, until a member of the House of Lords (who was also a lawyer) in attendance intervened to give Mr Sedry a break, since he'd admitted he was not a copyright expert, and essentially said there would be no justification for banning commercial parodies; that we need a parody exception in the UK and unless there was a question of passing off and trademark infringement in the commercial context, where more than adequate remedies were available to commercial rivals, then there was no justification for slicing parody exceptions into an irrational commercial v non-comercial dichotomy.
There was a lively subsequent discussion during which the most significant contributions came from a Google representative, Professor Fiona MacMillan of the University of London, Barbara Stratton of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance, a representative from Intellect and Saskia Walzel of Consumer Focus.
The Google rep suggested to Martin Brennan, "If you knew what you were asking people to do was illegal and you'd talked to lawyers you would not have got any investment." He went on to say that a Martin Brennan or Greenpeace would not find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they were based in New York, implying the US copyright regime was preferable to that of the UK. Big claim that... cough... DMCA... cough. Martin Brennan responded by saying the VCR was illegal when it was launched but he wasn't necessarily concerned about designers having to push boundaries - he was concerned they find themselves outside irrational boundaries that they never would have expected to breach or simply did not know existed. He also mentioned being aggravated by the BBC who point blank refused to mention the JB7 in a series of programmes that was heavily praising (rip, mix and burn) Apple iPods.
The Intellect rep asked Martin Kretschmer why couldn't format shifting be permitted universally. Professor Kretschmer reasonably pointed out that the analysis of harm was a complex business and we need a carefully constructed IP landscape to encourage creators to create, investors to invest and consumers to buy. Unfortunately we seriously lack the empirical evidence base to provide a sound analysis of harm to inform policy. Though Prof K. has made a significant contribution to that with his report for the IPO this week.
Saskia Walzel of Consumer Focus then raised the issue of economic harm in relation to the JB7. In the case of the JB7 and the Greenpeace parody ad there was no economic harm. The JB7 was enabling people to enjoy music they had already bought. Where is the economic harm. Additionally where is the economic harm to rightsholders from achiving? Why should the BFI be exposed to the kinds of risks black letter copyright law lays down when all they are trying to do is preserve and protect our cultural heritage.
Barbara Stratton of the the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance made the point that libraries and archives were essential for creativity. Dark archives are of no use if no one can access them. She passionately believes we need to change the law or we will get to a point where even the limited exceptions of the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act will only apply to the analogue world and our digital heritage will be locked away behind the paywalls of aggressive content monopolies.
Professor MacMillan then very eloquently - and I'm really sorry I didn't write her words down at the time because I'm pretty sure I'd be repeating them relentlessly - pointed out the key public interest function of intellectual property law and how we seem prone to forget or ignore it.
Depressingly Jim Dowd MP declared, just before he had to disappear for a vote in the House, that if the government don't get round to implementing Hargreaves in the next couple of years it will not get done in this parliament, if ever. In addition to the damage it would do the economy, that would be an insult to the work of the many people who fed into the review and to the memory of my friend, Mark Rogers, who considered it sufficiently important, in the final months of his life when he knew he was terminally ill, to devote time to producing evidence for the review (not to mention other earlier work he fed into it).
Martin Kretschmer neatly concluded proceedings by explaining that Hargreaves wants us to be careful not to over regulate but to understand that copyright policy - the subject of the evenings discussions - should focus on where it can make a difference to the creators, the investors (or as Mark Rogers would gently remind us that economists call them, the economic agents) and the consumers.
Well done to Consumer Focus & pictfor for setting up the evening and keeping the Hargreaves reforms in the spotlight and thanks for inviting me along.