Andrew Gowers considered shortening the copyright term for music to less than 50 years in his Treasury-commissioned review of intellectual property, but pulled back from the plan because it was "politically prudent" to do so.
Gowers was speaking exclusively to weekly technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio on World Intellectual Property Day. He discussed the most controversial issue covered by his report, the music industry's attempts to have the copyright term for sound recordings increased to more than its current 50 years.
"Our conclusions were roundly criticised by the music industry in particular for actually doing the non-revolutionary thing of leaving the status quo in place, i.e. 50 years' term protection for sound recordings," he said. "I could have made a case for reducing it based on the economic arguments.
"We certainly considered it, and if you look at the report that came from the academics that we commissioned to examine the arguments and examine the evidence they also argued very robustly that 50 years could be arguably more than enough," said Gowers, a former editor of the Financial Times. "In the end we took the politically prudent course. To be honest reducing it in any case would be a very big international debate. It would stand very little chance of making headway in Europe."
In an indication that he was less than sympathetic to the music industry's cause, Gowers said that he believed there was a chance that "the line can be held" in Europe at 50 years.
Gowers was commissioned by the Treasury to produce a report and recommendations on IP law, and he published his findings in December. In the report he recommended various measures such as the creation of a private right to copy material, the labelling of products with digital rights management and a copyright exemption for derivative or transformative works.
He said that his overall view of IP was that companies had had enough influence over the law, and that they should gain no more rights.
"For quite a number of years, probably for decades, intellectual property protection has been regarded as, in a way, a one-way ratchet. The people demanding more intellectual property protection have tended to be larger, better financed, more articulate than the fragmented number of consumers who pay the price for it," he said. "I think what we have done with this report is reassert the balance and make some arguments as to why that ratchet need not go any further."
"I think that the voice of consumers has been heard to a greater extent," he said. "I think that there is a recognition that laws have become outdated or excessively inflexible. In the light of the rapid pace of economic change, globalisation, digitisation [they] need to be amended. In the world of copyright frankly quite a few things that are common practice are treated on the statute book as illegal and that cannot be a good law."
Gowers said he suffered no political interference at all from the Government when conducting his research or producing his report, but he did say that pragmatism limited the scope of what he felt able to recommend.
"You have to start from the realisation that intellectual property is in fact a global system. It just happens to operate through national jurisdictions," he said. "So the idea that dear old Britain would somehow reinvent the rules of the road and in just one country is almost laughable. The fact is it is an international system operating in many cases through international treaties."
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