Intellectual Property Reform for the Internet Generation. An Accident Waiting to Happen

Richard Jones

Abstract


 

In July 2009, whilst delivering the 2009 Ludwig Erhard Lecture (The Lisbon Council’s flagship event), EU Commissioner for Telecoms and Media Viviane Reding (2009) posed the following question:

‘Does our present legal system for Intellectual Property Rights really live up to the expectations of the internet generation?’

For a generation for whom ‘Electronic life’ is a reality, is our present European regime of intellectual property fit for such an age? The UK Gowers Review (2005) on Intellectual Property when asked whether UK intellectual property law was fit for purpose in an era of globalisation, digitisation and increasing economic specialization had answered with a qualified ‘yes’.

The precision found in Gowers has, however, been lacking in the subsequent stages of reform. Whilst the Digital Britain Report carried through the precision Gowers several sets of consultations and reports in the UK and EU have muddled the debate and have hindered the process of coherent reform.

This paper will argue that the reform agenda has lost focus on what are the appropriate aims and objectives for intellectual property in the digital age. In apparently ignoring the lessons of recent history and contemporary economic evidence these proposals have become preoccupied with the vested rights of one group of stakeholders (rights holders), and have ignored the rights of consumers and other follow on users. As such they will lead to an increasing alienation between rights holders (and their performers and creators) and their users/consumers and so stand in contradiction to other strategies including the growing of the digital economy. Such failings have had a significant effect on innovation and culture within music, leading to the stifling of new musical genres and of the means to acquire and distribute music. Lessig (2004) refers to this process is as the locking down and appropriation of culture. The record industry as a result fails to provide variety, diversity and choice at a time when interest and usage in music is increasing. The industry now fails to provide clarity in vision for its users and innovators.


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