UK IP heads for 21st century

Vince Cable has had the pleasure of trying to drag the UK's intellectual property laws into the 21st century. This could be a boon for business...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 10 Aug 2011
First up Cable has had to scrap plans to allow the blocking of illegal filesharing websites. Under the proposed Digital Economy Act, copyright owners would have had room to get internet service providers to remove websites hosting material that infringed their copyright. Now the Government has realised such a system would be way too much of a pain in the binaries, leaving Cable saying that ministers intend to do more work on what other measures can be pursued to tackle the issue.

The problem with IP is that the UK’s current law is massively out of step with habits that have become utterly natural thanks to the proliferation of technology. Which is no surprise, given that it was introduced when people were fretting over the threat of the ‘talkies’. It’s still technically illegal to rip a song from a CD you’ve bought to an iPod, to copy a DVD to your hard drive, or to use re-edit clips of Hollywood films to humorous effect on YouTube. Hence reading the letter of the law is akin to castigating a 21st-century couple for cohabiting out of wedlock.

On the flipside, the problem of piracy is spreading from music to TV and films, and artists and companies probably need greater protection than ever, given how easy it is for disreputable elements to profit from their efforts. Last week the Motion Picture Association successfully applied for a court injunction requiring BT to block access to infringing website Newzbin2. Given that this all happened without the Digital Economy Act, questions have understandably been asked as to whether you need the legislation.

Cable is also working on bringing the recommendations of this year’s Hargreaves Review into action. Under his proposed new system ‘format shifting’ – ripping content from CDs and DVDs for personal use – will be legal, and the law will be relaxed for the manipulation of works for parody. Cue plenty more re-imaginings of Hitler speeches on YouTube then. It goes a bit further than that: Cable reckons the economy could benefit by £8bn over the next few years with the updated legislation.
Indeed, it should be a boost for business, at a time when David Cameron is continually crowing about innovation. Take the case of the Brennan JB7 music player, which lets owners copy their CDs onto a hard drive that can be accessed from around a home. The Advertising Standards Authority demanded that Brennan inform customers that using the JB7 breaks the law.

Meanwhile Cable has been unable to say whether the new rules would apply to consumers using new cloud services by Google, Apple and Amazon to store digital content on their portable media players. If the past is anything to go by, the law will simply have to keep step with consumer habits. If anyone is too worried, they may wish to heed the example of Avatar. According to filesharing blog it was the most pirated film of 2010 – 16.58 million downloads. Yet it still took a cool $2.8bn at the box office.

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