The Hargreaves Review

Over breakfast this morning the BBC Breakfast News show had a piece about the UK Governments response to the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth. The presenters had two guests in the studio one representing the record industry and another representing the movie makers. Vince Cable made a brief cameo appearance for the Government via video link.

The whole piece on the news seemed to be very biased and most of the talk was about how copying a CD/DVD onto your MP3 player was taking money out of the media moguls pockets. The presenters seemed to be taking the side of the media people and no-one on the show was thinking about things from the consumers point of view.

What the report says

I haven’t had time to look at the review in depth yet but Professor Hargreaves does seem to have done a good job of looking deeply into the issues and taking the technology into account too. Briefly the report concludes that with the rate of development of new technologies the UK must be prepared to react and change to encompass the changes.

Many of our existing laws are still firmly based around supporting 19th century technologies which in many ways are at least two generations of technology behind. For instance today the public wants to format shift their music to allow it to be listened to on a wide variety of devices. Our existing laws are still based around sheet music and concert hall performances. I remember as a child being told that

“Home taping is illegal and is killing music”

Well that was over 20 years ago and if anything music is more alive in 2011 than it ever was in the 80’s and the big music companies who are making the most noise are often reported as having record profits.

I heard a few expressions of surprise today that copying from CD to tape (or MP3 player) is technically illegal. I really think that a large portion of the British public are unaware of how anti-consumer our IP laws are in places.

Restricting Rights using Technology

The thing that grates on me most about the lobbyists attempts to keep things firmly embedded in the 19th century is the attempts to use digital technology to enforce rights.  We have some wonderful technologies that are designed to allow things to interoperate with each other and the content producers try to use technical barriers to limit this interoperability.

Ultimately my view is that most of these are futile and only serve to make life harder for the legitimate end user and to drive things into black markets. The technologies themselves often only offer protection for a few years until ways of circumventing them becomes commonplace.  Whether it be phones/gaming consoles that are locked down to stop people customising them or DVD/Blueray disks that are only supposed to be viewed in certain locations.

Worst of all IMHO is the current proposals to try to force ISPs to block illegal filesharing sites from their customers. Whilst I have a fair amount of sympathy with the content producers there is also a large amount of advertising that comes from the wider distribution channels that these sites bring. Not every “illegal” download would be turned into a “paying” download and in many ways the people who would pay will likely pay if offered legitimate downloads with value added features too.

Ultimately blocking the filesharing sites means taking the away the fundamental aspects of the internet and also forcing ISPs to spy on all of our surfing behaviour. It is almost like the phone companies being forced to listen to/record all of our phone conversations and for the postman to open/read all of our mail deliveries.

Even if that happens there are many ways in which the end-users can circumvent the ISPs monitoring. Sure they are less convenient but ultimately they are perfectly workable necessary.

Finding the right balance

The key taking things forward is finding the right balance. I’m all for content providers getting a fair price for what they provide. But they also have to adapt to the new technologies and embrace the new opportunities that it brings them.

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