Will the Fifth Time be the Charm for Britain's IP Policy Reviews?

The All-Party Intellectual Property Group (APIP) in the United Kingdom recently announced that it is taking on an arduous task: “conduct[ing] an inquiry into the role of government in protecting and promoting intellectual property.”

The APIP is soliciting thoughts on the UK’s current IP policy by asking organizations to respond to six topical, but broad questions, like "What should the objective of IP policy be?" and "What changes to the machinery of government do you believe would deliver better IP policy outcomes?"  Most importantly for our purposes, it also addresses the issue of digital media: “There have been numerous attempts to update the IP framework in the light of changes brought about by the digital environment. How successful have these been and what lessons can be learnt form these for policy developments?"

The end goal of the APIP’s inquiry appears to focus less on what the UK's IP policy is and more on how it is shaped - where and how the government creates and refines the administration of IP in Britain.  The APIP’s chair, MP John Whittingdale, notes in the announcement that “[t]here have been numerous reviews of IP policy in the last ten years but little examination has taken place of how Government itself promotes and develops the protection of Intellectual Property Rights.”

But reviewing IP policy has become something of a habit in Britain.  In fact, the UK Parliament has published four government-commissioned reports on IP policy within six years, which are strikingly repetitive in their recommended policy changes.

The latest report, published in May 2011, was commissioned when Parliament began considering legislation that would allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to disconnect users believed to be violating the rights of copyright holders. Known as the Hargreaves Report, the reviewing committee (led by Cardiff University Professor Ian Hargreaves) recommended an overhaul of UK IP laws, copyright in particular, to address changes in the intellectual property landscape brought about by digital media.  Among the changes promoted was “allowing people to copy music and video from their CDs and DVDs to their portable media players. . . .”

Hargreaves noted in the study that “IP law must adapt to change. . . . Digital communications technology involves routine copying of text, images and data, meaning that copyright law has started to act as a barrier to the creation of certain kinds of new, internet-based businesses. . . .”

Although Parliament dropped the legislation shortly before the review was finished due to strong opposition from media organizations, Parliament began yet another inquiry into IP policy, focusing on the recommendations made in the Hargreaves Report.

Sound familiar?

The likelihood that the APIP’s inquiry will result in usable information that will, in turn, be put into practice seems slim. The UK has already commissioned and been delivered four reports on intellectual property policy, which recommend similar changes to current law. What, exactly, do they expect a fifth to bring?

Lauren Campbell is a CMLP intern and a 3L at Boston College Law School. 

(Image of Baroness Wilcox, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Business, Innovation and Skills, with Wallace and Gromit at the Intellectual Property Office’s (IPO) Wallace & Gromit Cracking Ideas Awards ceremony used courtesy of Flickr user bisgovuk under a Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0 license.)


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