IP law probe MPs hunt for smoking gun, find plenty of smoke

The IPO whodunnit continues

Who is pulling the levers behind the IPO?

Some of the most interesting contributions came from the floor.

One was an insight into how policy-making within the IPO was driven. Hubert Best, a lawyer and expert on Nordic extended collective licensing, said he’d been invited to explain it to the IPO, who clearly wanted to implement it in the UK. He had patiently explained that collective licensing - the act of putting an organisation in charge of collecting royalties on behalf of artists - as the IPO wanted it could not work within the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

“Now somebody has told those very nice people at the IPO that ‘This is the answer that has to be provided'. I was left asking myself – I wonder where that decision comes from?” he wondered out loud.

Ian Moss, formerly of the Growth Unit at the Treasury, put in an economic perspective that’s worth quoting at length because it provides so much of the wider context that is usually absent.

“At times they are mixing up what is good fiscally and what is good economically,” said Moss. “If you are looking at public spending you want to pay as little as possible for all the things you buy, and the easiest thing to do is make things free.”

The new stealth policy, he explained, applied that logic to the technology sector by making its inputs free.

“Unfortunately for the whole of the economy that isn’t a good thing – because for the things we value, there aren’t enough of them made.”

It’s a worthwhile point. If the new strategy wasn’t so stealthy, we’d be having a public debate about whether the economy as a whole should take a hit just so that one stroppy corner of the technology sector should get a leg-up.

And remember that much of the technology sector, including the likes of Apple and Microsoft, respects rights and works with rights-holders. Apple created new content markets where internet "experts" had said it would never succeed.

Moss had another observation about The Great Leap Forward. The IP debate advanced by radicals and reformers didn’t focus on economic incentives, but was about accessing stuff that had already been made. It looked at stocks, not flows.

“[It] is one thing asking ‘How do we ensure optimal access to the stock of content?', [it is another to ask] 'How do we ensure an optimal flow of new content?'. So far all the discussion is about the stock, and none from the IPO in policy areas is about the flow.

“Which means us utilising the rights we own now in new technology areas in the future: the cloud, for example.

“In most circumstances, we can look at past performance as a good indicator of future performance. If we’ve been pretty good at creating in the past, then that’s probably the thing we should stick with in the future.”

The inquiry continues today at 3pm BST, with the Intellectual Property Office’s head John Alty as sole witness. It won’t be the last session, we understand. ®

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