Hargreaves IP proposals need international backing

Intellectual property report's ideas make sense but online laws need wider setting to work fully…

With the publication of the Hargreaves review of the UK's intellectual property framework, it's again clear that online laws must develop in a European and international framework for businesses to exploit the internet fully, says digital media lawyer Duncan Calow.

Well, thank goodness for that. Suggestions that Professor Hargreaves would propose sweeping new changes in copyright law have proved to be nonsense.

His report on improvements to the intellectual property framework, the so-called Google Review, was launched on the Prime Minister's concern that innovative technology companies could not flourish in the UK without US-style laws. But despite David Cameron's vision of a Silicon Roundabout in East London, the Hargreaves report has resisted jumping on the anti-copyright bandwagon.

Instead, Hargreaves has chosen to revisit some of the more sensible proposals from previous work - such as the licensing of orphan works and a review of copyright exceptions including format shifting. That is not to say it is an unambitious document.

Rather than harmonising, previous EU directives have often proved to be instruments of diversity

Rather than harmonising, previous EU directives have often proved to be instruments of diversityPhoto: Shutterstock

Other key recommendations include the establishment of a Digital Copyright Exchange, to encourage and oversee streamlined licensing solutions - despite industry rejection of similar proposals two years ago, the re-evaluation of the entire design rights framework and a series of reforms of patent law.

Ill-defined line between technology company and content provider

As a journalist and academic, Hargreaves knows that in a digital world of clouds, networks and user-generated content we are all both users and owners of digital rights. And the line between technology company and content provider is not as clear as many pretend.

So despite the talk of copyright wars, fair and effective rules in this area require thoughtful and proportionate change - not hyperbole. Reform should be about rebalancing not revolution and the focus of the Hargreaves report reflects that "policy should balance measurable economic objectives against social goals, and potential benefits for rights holders against impacts on consumers and other interests".

Rights owners of all types and those investing in creative talent should feel secure in building and investing in the future. But those at the forefront of digital technology such as content aggregators, new media platforms and social media sites can also continue to build their business models in partnership with other creative industries, not adverse to them.

The report also acknowledges that online laws must develop within a European and international framework to be effective. If businesses are ever going to be able to fully exploit the opportunities that the internet offers as a global channel to market, it is essential that we do not lose focus on how intellectual property and other laws can be harmonised.

EU directives and local complexities

Previous EU directives have often proved to be instruments of diversity across member states implemented with local complexities - exceptions to copyright being but one example. As the report acknowledges: "This is especially important at the international level, where large interests collide, making progress towards international agreement on IP issues frustratingly slow."

It is a frustration that many businesses are all too aware of. Those companies, from film studios to innovative software players, though always respectful of the needs of local markets and audiences, operate on an increasingly international basis and they need more to be done.

Reports of the death of copyright continue to be greatly exaggerated, when as a surprisingly adaptable legal animal it still has much to offer in a digital world. While Hargreaves has not avoided highlighting the digital challenges, he has made clear it is not such an endangered species as those reports suggest.

Duncan Calow is a partner and digital media specialist at law firm DLA Piper.