Rogue IPO bureaucrats feel MPs' red-hot probe

Sudden interest in how IP policy is made


A powerful all-party group of MPs will examine how IP policy is made in the UK in a new formal enquiry – firing a tranquilliser dart at executive agency the Intellectual Property Office.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport, will lead the group, with Pete Wishart vice-chairing, under The All Party-Parliamentary Group on IP umbrella (APIP).

"Little examination has taken place of how government itself promotes and develops the protection of Intellectual Property Rights. We want to understand how IP policy is developed and co-ordinated to see whether the current arrangements are fit for purpose," said Whittingdale in a statement introducing the review.

APIP is inviting views on "the purpose of IP"; whether we've learned anything from the interminable carousel (Gowers, Hargreaves) of IP reviews; and – rather pointedly – "how effective... the Intellectual Property Office [is] and what ... its priorities [should] be".

APIP will also ponder which set of grown-ups is best to look after the People's Revolutionary Council of Newport, as the IPO has become known. When the Coalition took office in 2010, the IPO was an executive agency of the Ministry of Fun (DCMS), but now it answers (we use the term loosely) to the Business Department (BiS).

So what prompted this?

The ideology of the IPO and its lead role in creating government policy, rather than implementing it, have provided the catalyst for enquiry, we understand. The bureaucrats effectively ripped up the UK's international copyright position, and seemingly introduced a new one by stealth. Ministers were surprised to discover that the government now advocated "the widest possible exceptions to copyright within the existing EU framework" and that "there is a need for a wider set of exceptions at EU level" [stated by the IPO here.]

It's just as well the civil service hadn't decided to unilaterally declare war on Kazakhstan. Or France.

The IPO's copyright guru, Ed Quilty [centre], on a rare public outing

In addition, a clutch of other "innovations" were quietly introduced bearing either the government imprimatur or as consultation "recommendations". Copyright businesses ranging from games to music generally don't like compulsory licensing – it removes their ability to compete and set prices for their work. What they want is access to markets. Yet the IPO recommends an open-ended "extended collective licence" (ECL) framework that potentially takes large areas of economic activity away from the private sector and into a compulsory licence framework – which would see market destruction on an enormous scale.

The net result of these decisions is to break the cross-party, cross-industry consensus that IP is by-and-large a good thing, culturally and economically – even if parts of it need bringing up to date, and copyright-holders deserve the occasional kick up the bum.

UK IP policy now marches to a very different drum: the fashionable academic thinking is that IP is an impediment to modernity, and must be hacked away wherever possible. This meets with approval from academic theorists (for whom weakening IP is another death blow to capitalism) and bureaucrats (who are elevated by such schemes). These are two groups who (coincidentally) have spent their lives avoiding markets and the private sector, and their antipathy to it is deep. But it's hard to find support shared elsewhere. There is no reason to elevate one set of prejudices at the expense of another.

The IPO's private policy-making has, in effect, been an undemocratic coup.

One economic sector that does benefit from taking creators' rights out of markets are advertising-supported American web companies – the instigators of the current round of IP thinking. Whether APIP really wants to run across this political minefield – or has the time to – remains to be seen.

We ought to note that the digital economy of the future described by Google, Facebook and Yahoo! today will be a rather smaller economy than a transactional one could be, a world in which real money changes hands. Google has devoted a decade to lobbying against IP enforcement in order to maintain its advertising-supported pre-eminence. Google is happier being a big fish in a small pond, one in which the water everyone must swim is advertising and data-mining. Apple, by contrast, has encouraged the creation of content markets, and respected IP, and worked with rights-holders. Their respective fortunes are illustrated above.

There's also an interesting footnote to all this. As one reader noted, when you take cultural production and reward away from diverse and healthy markets, and hand it to a cabal of bureaucrats, then "the only creative people will then be the bureaucrats. It is The Ultimate Bureaucrat narcissism fantasy. Weird."

Weird, indeed. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Google has more reasons why it doesn't like antitrust law that affects Google
    It'll ruin Gmail, claims web ads giant

    Google has a fresh list of reasons why it opposes tech antitrust legislation making its way through Congress but, like others who've expressed discontent, the ad giant's complaints leave out mention of portions of the proposed law that address said gripes.

    The law bill in question is S.2992, the Senate version of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), which is closer than ever to getting votes in the House and Senate, which could see it advanced to President Biden's desk.

    AICOA prohibits tech companies above a certain size from favoring their own products and services over their competitors. It applies to businesses considered "critical trading partners," meaning the company controls access to a platform through which business users reach their customers. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta in one way or another seemingly fall under the scope of this US legislation. 

    Continue reading
  • Makers of ad blockers and browser privacy extensions fear the end is near
    Overhaul of Chrome add-ons set for January, Google says it's for all our own good

    Special report Seven months from now, assuming all goes as planned, Google Chrome will drop support for its legacy extension platform, known as Manifest v2 (Mv2). This is significant if you use a browser extension to, for instance, filter out certain kinds of content and safeguard your privacy.

    Google's Chrome Web Store is supposed to stop accepting Mv2 extension submissions sometime this month. As of January 2023, Chrome will stop running extensions created using Mv2, with limited exceptions for enterprise versions of Chrome operating under corporate policy. And by June 2023, even enterprise versions of Chrome will prevent Mv2 extensions from running.

    The anticipated result will be fewer extensions and less innovation, according to several extension developers.

    Continue reading
  • I was fired for blowing the whistle on cult's status in Google unit, says contractor
    The internet giant, a doomsday religious sect, and a lawsuit in Silicon Valley

    A former Google video producer has sued the internet giant alleging he was unfairly fired for blowing the whistle on a religious sect that had all but taken over his business unit. 

    The lawsuit demands a jury trial and financial restitution for "religious discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation and related causes of action." It alleges Peter Lubbers, director of the Google Developer Studio (GDS) film group in which 34-year-old plaintiff Kevin Lloyd worked, is not only a member of The Fellowship of Friends, the exec was influential in growing the studio into a team that, in essence, funneled money back to the fellowship.

    In his complaint [PDF], filed in a California Superior Court in Silicon Valley, Lloyd lays down a case that he was fired for expressing concerns over the fellowship's influence at Google, specifically in the GDS. When these concerns were reported to a manager, Lloyd was told to drop the issue or risk losing his job, it is claimed. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022