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New report proposes intellectual property shake-up

Current UK legislation is “obstructing innovation and economic growth”, according to the Digital Opportunity review, which recommends 10 significant reforms to current intellectual property rules.

Current UK legislation is “obstructing innovation and economic growth”, according to the Digital Opportunity review, which recommends 10 significant reforms to current intellectual property rules, writes David Davies.

More than five months in the preparation, the new report is the work of Professor Ian Hargreaves (pictured), a long-time member of Cardiff University’s journalism faculty and a regular contributor to BBC Radio Four’s The Moral Maze. He was enlisted by Prime Minister David Cameron to lead an independent review into current legislation surrounding intellectual property – some of which dates back more than three centuries.

Acknowledging the changing patterns of usage surrounding copyrighted material, Hargreaves calls for the formation of a Digital Copyright Exchange by the end of 2012. The new body would serve as a ‘one-stop shop’ for the clearance of copyrighted material.

But in a decision that has pleased many in the music and film worlds, Hargreaves rejects the possibility of US-style Fair Use rules on copyrighted content that would permit the use of a creator’s work without permission. “We concluded that importing fair use wholesale was unlikely to be legally feasible in Europe,” said the report. “The approach advocated here stops short of advocating the big once and for all fix of the UK promoting a fair use copyright exception to the EU, as recommended by Google and under examination by the Irish government.”

Among its ten key recommendations, the report also urges the introduction of global repertoire databases, the lifting of the ban on ripping music from CDs to MP3 players, and a relaxing of the rules around musical parodies – evermore ubiquitous in the era of YouTube.

But while it calls for significant changes, the report is noticeably upbeat regarding the overall prospects for the UK’s cultural industries. Sales and profitability levels in most creative spheres “appear to be holding up reasonably. We conclude that many creative businesses are experiencing turbulence from digital copyright infringement, but that at the level of the whole economy, measurable impacts are not as stark as is sometimes suggested.”

Responses to the report from senior political figures, trade associations and commentators have been broadly positive, although there have been calls for more action on moral rights and additional clarity on the practicalities of implementing the Digital Copyright Exchange.

Ahead of a more detailed, formal response, industry body UK Music offered an initial verdict on the Hargreaves report: “The members of UK Music took this Review at face value, and we are pleased it recognises the vital role of intellectual property to this country’s future economic growth. Recent years have seen significant progress in terms of digital innovation and infrastructural change, such as the development of industry-led global repertoire databases, as suggested by Professor Hargreaves.

“Clearly, copyright law is not confined by national boundaries, and many of today’s recommendations are also the focus of European policy-makers. One of these is format shifting, an area where the UK music industry has willingly proposed solutions that would legitimise consumer behaviour and benefit UK creators. ‪

“We now look forward to engaging closely with Government and trust they will support our musical talent at home, in Brussels and everywhere else in the world.”‪