Missing, inaction

Wilf StevensonWilf Stevenson on the Coalition’s piecemeal approach to intellectual property rights

After a long period of inactivity, the Coalition government have produced two Bills dealing with Intellectual Property (IP) in the space of barely 12 months. I would like to think this is because they have finally woken up to the need to modernise our IP regime and support our creative industries. But given the considerable amount of time and effort put in during the last session into amending the section of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill on Copyright, and the ongoing furore about the recent Hargreaves Report into copyright exceptions (due to come before the Lords in secondary legislation later this year), we must recognise the jury is out on this matter. 

This Bill hardly lives up to the rhetoric in the Queen’s Speech, and so slim is it that one might almost wonder if it started out as a minor section tagged onto the end of a much bigger Bill. Perhaps the Communication Bill, about which we heard so much in the early days of the Coalition but that now seems to have died a death. 

Whatever its provenance, the Bill is in truth yet another attempt by the BIS Department to tinker with one or two fringe areas in IP. Another piecemeal approach – picking up issues that happen to be at the top of the pile rather than doing what the industry is crying out for and the Hargreaves recommendations of doing a root and branch job within a coherent plan. That’s what will provide the crucial support for our creative industries to grow and prosper, and in turn contribute to the rebalancing of our economy.

It is worth recalling that some of the measures included in the ERR Bill will have the effect of gifting lengthy and valuable copyrights back to companies who manufacture chairs and other objects, and indeed wallpapers – at the expense of consumers. And many of the copyright exceptions which will be coming forward in secondary legislation later this session will directly impact on profitable businesses which currently trade on rights purchased and acquired over many decades. So changes to the IP regime are not to be made lightly and need to be considered properly, with regard both to fairness as well as enterprise.   

I suspect the problems which arise in this area stem in part from the continuing split in responsibilities for IP between BIS and DCMS – something that bedevils this area. The Lords Minister leading on this Bill, Viscount Younger of Leckie, styles himself as the IP Minister. But with DCMS directly responsible for film, broadcasting, the performing and the visual arts, and the cultural industries more generally, that claim has a hollow ring. 

Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara is a Shadow Business, Innovation & Skills Minister in the Lords

Published 22nd May 2013

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