Exclusive Google's influence on the UK copyright agenda is a little clearer today, thanks to an email seen by The Register. The email is a rallying cry to 'independent' copyright activists.
In the email, Google's head of UK policy, Theo Bertram, urges the recipients to rally supporters behind a Parliamentary Early Day Motion in favour of the controversial Hargreaves Review into IP and Growth. Quickly dubbed the 'Google Review', the review was launched by Prime Minister David Cameron in November 2010 at Silicon Roundabout, where Cameron cited Google's difficulties with UK copyright law as the cause for the review. The quote Cameron attributed to Google has never been found, and critics of the review have found the economic basis for the proposed changes to the UK's copyright laws highly questionable.
Recipients of Bertram's email include Saskia Walzel, of taxpayer-funded quango Consumer Focus, and Peter Bradshaw, of the Open Rights Group, which musters around 1,400 paying supporters. Both groups present themselves as independent voices of the consumer in the copyright debate. But the idea of Google initiating legislative changes, and then using citizens groups to provide 'support' for them, disturbs industries affected by the changes.
A rights-holder's representative who spoke to us on condition of anonymity told us:
It's an example of astroturf: of a corporation using the collective action of not-for-profit groups to further its own interests.
"What's that you said, Sooty? 'Copyright must be changed to accelerate the UK's digital economy?'
I'll tell the boys and girls."
We requested a clarification from Google but had received no response at press time.
The EDM has gathered 22 signatories so far.
Bertram was a special adviser at No 10 to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before leaving for a short stint at O2 in 2010. He then joined Google.
The giant American corporation pays minimal corporation tax in the UK thanks to a series of complex legal avoidance mechanisms. Many of the independent creators affected by Hargreaves' proposals – illustrators, designers and photographers – are freelancers and can't afford lobbying muscle or PR companies. ®