Saturday, November 07, 2009
The UK Government is going from strength to strength. First Hack the Government and now the UK IP Office has published a very thoughtful and critical report on the future of intellectual property, “The Way Ahead : A Strategy for Copyright In The Digital Age”.
The UK IP Office is the official government body responsible for Intellectual Property (IP) rights in the United Kingdom.
Apart from the compulsory background chapter – the history of IP and a description of the current legal situation – it contains a pragmatic and surprisingly neutral analysis of the consequences of the current legal system.
“Technology means the capability to create, use and distribute copyright works is now in the hands of the individual.” (page 22)
The UK IP Office’s conclusion is that the current IP laws have a low legitimacy in the public’s eye and needs to be reformed to get accepted. They also conclude that recent politics and heavy lobbying from the IP industry have undermined the public’s trust in the law’s principle of equality of justice.
“The copyright system suffers from a marked lack of public legitimacy. [...] The system is often unable to accommodate certain uses of copyright works that a large proportion of the population regards as legitimate fair and reasonable. [...] Our consultation has revealed that the public legitimacy of copyright has also been impacted by difficulties identified in the relationship between authors and rights holders, for instance those who do not receive a fair reward from those who exploit their works. [...] These difficulties have a very real impact on perceptions of the copyright system. The copyright system must be seen as fair to authors and users if it is to command greater public respect. This perception of unfairness to authors has wider currency. There is a persistent belief among consumers (as well as among some authors) that authors get relatively little from deals with major rights holders. This seems to reinforce attitudes that copyright infringement is a victimless crime ‘because the author won’t see a difference’.” (page 28-29)
For a legal system to retain its legitimacy, the public must believe that laws differ from politics. Laws must be separate from and “above” politics, economics, culture, and the values or preferences of judges.
A legal and political system whose essential principles, procedures, and styles are created by those with strong financial resources and substantial property, sooner or later will show that everybody is not treated equally.
The survival of state institutions depends on the public’s perceived legitimacy. Most people obey governmental authorities not just to avoid punishment, but because they believe those authorities have the right to make demands and because they feel that complying is the right thing to do.
For the most part, the public polices itself. We feel an obligation to follow the decisions of group authorities and group rules. But an increasing political cynicism has undercut current IP law’s legitimacy. The introduction of HADOPI and other new IP related laws have diluted the public’s trust in the public system as well as the authorities that uphold these laws. There is a widespread discontent with the current system. The opinion is that these laws are not fair. They are designed only for those with money and resources.
“The Government observes that the muscular language of enforcement emphasising theft is unhelpful and problematic. It would be useful for everyone to recognise that a loyal customer base is alienated when the distinction between criminal liability and civil infringement is not made clear. The ‘cooperation not criminalisation’ approach of the Featured Artists Coalition is encouraging.” (page 47)