The Parliamentary committee which monitors the Business Department has warmly backed No 10's copyright revolution, and urged the Hargreaves' Independent Review of IP and Growth – aka the Google Review – to speed ahead.
MPs recommend going further than many copyright radicals, supporting greatly expanded powers for the Intellectual Property Office (formerly the Patent Office) to take entire classes of work out of the the commercial market system and into its own control – via the Copyright Tribunal. This is something the IPO itself rather optimistically appended to the Google Review, but retreated from rapidly. MPs have suggested the bureaucrats gain the power to grant and withdraw licences.
The committee made little attempt to appear even-handed, dismissing every single objection raised by Britain's £8bn IP industries. The 63-page document has 33 occurrences of the word 'however' – invariably responses to a point made by rights-holders – and six mentions of the word 'Killock' but only four of the word 'photographers'.
When the committee heard evidence last year, the Open Rights Group's Jim Killock claimed that Netflix had decided against launching in the UK because of our outdated copyright laws. This raised eyebrows, for just 10 days earlier, Netflix had hosted an expansive event for press and analysts explaining exactly how it was launching in the UK. Jim hadn't gotten the memo, and the MPs got Jim.
Representations from copyright groups and technology groups are naturally self-interested. Legislators and policy-makers have a difficult job balancing these competing claims. They can therefore be expected to look at the economic evidence, of what's good for the UK's economic growth and future cultural output.
But here, MPs take a punt. Economic growth gets scant coverage in the BiS report. Which is odd, since the entire justification behind the Google Review was that on balance, UK plc would benefit, rather just Google.
"You don't kiss goodbye to a highly successful, employment sustaining content sector on the off chance that one of these tiddlers, living like parasites on the pig's belly of supposedly free content, might one day become the next Google," the Telegraph's Jeremy Warner wrote last year. "By beefing up copyright, Britain could cement its position as a haven for content and thereby provide a beacon for international investors."
Months before No 10 sparked the Google Review in 2010, IPO civil servants had concluded, as part of the 'Taking Gowers Forward' process, that there was little economic case for new copyright exemptions. Then No 10 set Hargreaves to work.
When the economic case for Hargreaves' conclusions was finally published by civil servants last August, the earlier arguments were forgotten. However the new "evidence" actually supported the status quo – and many of the IPO's claims were so fantastic or innumerate, they didn't stand up. The Select Committee's apparent reluctance to identify any of this is striking. This is a serious failure of Parliamentary scrutiny. ®