Government to loosen IP law to 'bring it in line with the real world'

Individuals will be able to legally copy music from CDs to portable devices and buy and sell licenses to digital products more easily as the Government backs an overhaul to the UK intellectual property law to "bring it in line with the real world".

Music files: sharing for personal use will be permitted under new IP regime
Music files: sharing for personal use will be permitted under new IP regime

Announcing the changes today, Vince Cable, business secretary, said that modernising the intellectual property system, which were considered "archaic" by some in the digital industry, could potentially boost the economy by up to £7.9bn.

He said: "By creating a more open intellectual property system it will allow innovative businesses to develop new products and services which will be able to compete fairly in the UK’s thriving markets for consumer equipment."

Under the changes the Government will allow private copying of legitimally purchased content, such as a CD to a computer or portable device, which it says will bring copyright law "into line with the real world".

This could see companies such as Amazon and Google develop cloud storage services for UK consumers.

Guy Phillipson, chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau, said that changes to IP could also provide a welcome commercial boost too. He noted: "Sites such as Spotify, We7 and LastFM are growing in popularity, providing free, legal access to innovative music services, funded by online advertising.

"Audiences for these services will continue to grow, particularly now that they are available on mobile devices at very low subscription rates."

As part of the overhaul, the Government plans to introduce a ‘Digital Copyright Exchange’ which is a digital marketplace where rights holders can advertise their ownership of copyrights and individuals can buy and sell licenses to use them, which it claims could see £2bn added to the UK economy by 2020.

It is is also calling for the ‘right to parody’ to be introduced, making it legal for comedians and artists to parody someone else’s work, without seeking permission from the copyright holder.

The Government will allow access to "orphan works", where the author of copywrited works are unknown or can’t be traced, to prevent the "interests of others" being held to ransom.

An exception to copyright for text and data mining search and analysis techniques will be introduced to allow research scientists greater access to data.

It added that the Government has strengthened the Intellectual Property Office’s economics team to highlight growth opportunities and drive future policy.

The sweeping changes to intellectual property law follow recommendations made in the Hargreaves report, published in May.

Cable said: "We are accepting the recommendations and will now set about reforming the UK’s intellectual property systems. Opening up intellectual property laws can deliver real value to the UK economy as well as the creators and consumers."

Baroness Wilcox, minister for intellectual property, said: "Intellectual property is a key UK export and global trade in IP licenses alone is worth more than £600 billion a year."

"UK businesses need to have confidence in the international IP framework so they are able to create and exploit value from their ideas," she said.

Back in May, the UK digital industry welcomed the recommendations, having viewed the current law as restrictive and stymieing innovation.

While companies such as Google and Spotify can benefit from the new law, with content being liberalised for distribution, TV companies and music rights owners may be reluctant to relax control over their content.

Adam Morallee, partner in the intellectual property department at law firm Mishcon de Reya, was among those to take a wait and see appproach to the news. "The Government is just legalising what everyone has been doing for a long time. Rights owners don't care about sharing between a family - they care about sharing on the internet," he said.

"What we need is effective punishments for infringers in order to effect an attitude change. Many people consider it their right to get content for free and that needs to change."

Meanwhile, Mark Beatson, director at global advisory firm FTI Consulting, said: "The Government response signals an intent to implement Ian Hargreaves's main recommendations but with little greater clarity on exactly what will be done or when. There is still plenty to play for in turning these words into action."

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