Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Westminster eForum: IP and the future of copyright

I had the privilege of opening the Westminster eForum's seminar on Intellectual Property and the Future of Copyright on Monday. It was a wide ranging session including speakers and delegates from all corners of the intellectual property landscape.

The most impressive speaker on the day was Ian Fletcher, Chief Executive of the UK's Intellectual Property Office. He talked with authority and conviction on the need for evidence based policy making in this area. I must have looked like a nodding dog at the speakers' table alongside, since I found myself agreeing with everything he had to say.

Intellectual property policy has traditionally been an evidence-free zone and to hear someone in such a position demonstrating a commitment to build an economic and social evidence base was extremely heartening. He was also prepared to say that:
  • some interested groups were very good at lobbying and influencing decision making in IP
  • we must recognise that every creator's inputs are someone else's outputs
  • that we must be very careful about our use of language and not allow it to distort the debate or our understanding
  • that we have to gather robust and thorough empirical evidence on how to move forward and that some will not like what the evidence has to say
  • we need to ask hard questions including whether copyright term is actually too long and should be reduced - he asked a whole series of difficult and genuinely open questions like this without intent to pre-judge the outcomes of any evidence gathering
  • that there tends to be a constant leveraging up of the strength and scope of IP protections - the US has this, so the EU should have likewise; the EU has that, so the US should have the same etc.
  • that Andrew Gowers' key insight was to bring economics to the IP table
With that kind of thinking at the heart of the UK IPO, we can look to the future with some optimism.

The other highlights of the seminar were contributions from Becky Hogge of the Open Rights Group and film-maker, Jamie King, director of Steal This Film II. On the industry side Shira Perlmutter of the IFPI was quietly effective though I disagreed with some of what she had to say; Richard Mollet of the BPI started out well as you would expect of a confident, experienced PR professional but then, from my perspective, slightly misjudged the mood and came across as irritated that others, such as Andrew Gowers, had a different world view which was taken seriously. What was interesting was when he admonished us to get our language right - we should apparently be labeling the '3 strikes' laws/memorandums/agreements as a "graduated response" approach. Kettles, pots and a certain colour come to mind and anyway I think I prefer Louise Ferguson's "Internet ASBOS" as a more appropriate tag.

If anyone would like a copy of my own contribution to the morning, let me know and I'll send you the text of my talk and associated slides. Alternatively I'm happy to post it in full here. I'm hoping it came across as relatively neutral but evidence-focussed and a reasonable indication to that effect was that I was subsequently quoted by various speakers on different sides of the debate as supporting what they had to say. I should say the back end of my speech was inspired by Lilian Edwards - some of it indeed was lifted directly from my blog post about Lilian's OII 'Musicians, fans and online copyright' talk recently! Other parts were based on the work I did with Mark Rogers of Oxford University on the economics of copyright.

Update: A recording of Becky Hogge's talk is now available at ORG.

1 comment:

pangloss said...

I'd really like to see your response and suspect others would too.