Thursday, November 30, 2006

Time to be mildly optimistic about IP policy?

This week the IP and Technology blogosphere has been set aflame by the report from the BBC stating that copyright terms for sound recordings will be left as they are. From IPKat to Copyfight, everyone seems to find this is a delightful outcome to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property (see the submission from IP academics on this topic).

I find this latest development quite remarkable, as I am sensing a turn of the tide, a swing of the pendulum, a change of wind (select your cliché), with regards to IP policy in Europe. From the report on the database right, to the defeat of the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive, I believe that policy-makers in Europe are becoming more attuned to the copyfighter argument against unchecked expansion of intellectual property rights. We could be faced for the first time to a policy body actually refusing to listen the the considerable rhetorical weight andcelebrity appeal of those intellectual giants, Mick Hucknall, Bono and Sir Cliff Richard (please note the heavy ironic tone).

While many of us have been in the sceptical bandwagon for the duration of the present century, it is quite nice to see that politicians may be catching on.

1 comment:

John H said...

Possibly. But then you read something like this, and despair - "folklore" as an IP right...

Part of the problem is summed up well by Milton Friedman in "Free to Choose" (not that I'm a big fan of Milt most of the time!), when he points out that there is a tendency to entrench regulations, particularly regulations that act as barriers to entry, because the people who benefit from them - the existing players in the market - are thinking about these issues all the time, whereas those who would benefit from removing those barriers only pay attention to the issue intermittently, and hence carry less political clout.

If we view IP rights, not as "property rights", but as a regulatory barrier to entry protecting existing players in the market, then we can see how it is that existing content providers etc - who are lobbying for these issues all the time - can carry more weight in political deliberations than those with differing interests. The rest of us may find the consequences of this vaguely irritating, but most of the time it's not a big issue and hence politicians don't feel under much pressure to resist the lobbying of Big IP.

Interesting also that the biggest exception to this rule has been software, where free/open source software has been driven by those with a different reason for caring about the issues all the time - freelance programmers, large IT companies needing a way to beat Microsoft while lacking the resources to do so by proprietary software means (e.g. Novell).