Two years ago Google embarked on a campaign to import US-style "fair use" into British copyright law. Three months ago the new Coalition obliged, by commissioning an independent review to examine growth and intellectual property, specifically tacking onto the group's To Do list.
This may strike you as odd, since the UK copyright sector – the flotilla of (invariably) small businesses in design, fashion, music, advertising, TV and games – outperforms almost every other in the world, and compares very favourably with the US. The UK also does not have the litigious culture found in the Nation of One Million Lawyers, which is also a help.
Industry representatives were dismayed when the two copyright "experts" appointed to advise Hargreaves were hostile to the sector. One of those last week compared copyright to "a sickness". Now those critics muttering about bias have all the ammunition they could wish for, in Hargreaves' latest update: a visit to the shrines of Silicon Valley.
'It’s the expansion joint in the American system', one Palo Alto lawyer told me. Google’s search technology is based upon a form of mass copying on the internet. Facebook’s user-generated content risks routine violation of copyright if the home video posted on a family site includes a copyright[ed] song.
In so far as these boundaries are unclear in American law, they get resolved through the courts and business moves on. 'The system gives us the confidence to invest and grow,' said the lawyer.
In Palo Alto, the IP lawyers almost outnumber the software engineers.
Strangely, both Google and Facebook operate within the confines of UK law – and with a lower overhead, as Hargreaves admits.
So much for innovation, then.
Even if the review recommends no changes to UK "fair dealing" exemptions, the idea that the system is irretrievably broken, and needs a Google-flavoured fix, will have inched forward.
Chancellor George Osborne recently teamed up with Google chairman Eric Schmidt to write a joint editorial in the Daily Telegraph, prompting Indie founder Stephen Glover to say: "I can't imagine a member of the Government doing a piece with Rupert Murdoch." ®