Expect great freetard wailing and gnashing of teeth this week with the much-anticipated publication of the Hargreaves Intellectual Property Review in the UK. The review, announced last Autumn by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, was advertised as a way of updating the country’s supposedly stuffy old copyright laws to make them fit for today’s cutting-edge digital era.
Central to the review was the possible introduction of something dear to the hearts of freetards everywhere: a law permitting the so-called fair use of intellectual property. For those unfamiliar with the concept, fair use is a term that in the looking-glass world of Freetardia means the exact opposite of what it means on planet Earth. Down here fair use means what it says: somebody pays a reasonable fee for something and enjoys usage commensurate with the fee. It doesn’t much matter what that something is. A photograph, a restaurant meal or even some Class A drugs: the basic rules of the game are the same, and are constrained by what the seller and buyer agree are reasonable.
But on Freetardia fair use means anyone can take an artist’s product without paying or even informing the artist, and do with it what they will. Health and Safety Advisory: freetards only apply this logic to intellectual property. Even the most diehard freetards caution against leaving restaurants without paying, or heisting the Merc belonging to the drug dealer at the end of your road.
The freetards had high hopes of the IP Review, not least because they have a heavy hitter on their side: Google Vice-President Rachel Whetstone is married to David Cameron’s Director of Strategy Steve Hilton, a fact doubtless unconnected with Cameron’s assertion that Google could never have started their company in Britain due to the lack of fair use legislation.
But as submissions to the review poured in the freetards’ plans began to go awry. For one thing, Britain’s IP laws are more closely related to European IP laws, not those of the US. Then members of the review panel noted that fair use in the US had led to a large amount of litigation. And right on cue those raising this issue were presented with a prime piece of evidence: so-called appropriation artist Richard Prince – known in some circles as the Prince of Thieves for his ability to make millions recycling the work of others and flogging the results to the gullible – suffered a humiliating New York courtroom defeat for plagiarising the work of French photographer Patrick Cariou. And what had Prince’s defence been? Why, fair use of course.
Worst of all, although many UK small and medium size business claimed that the cost of using others’ intellectual property restricted business development, and therefore lobbied for the introduction of fair use, other larger businesses – those in the actual business of intellectual property – made the opposite argument. Publishers and broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV and national newspaper and magazine groups, lined up to make the case summed up by ITV’s Adam Crozier:
“If the government really sees creative Britain as being a growth story, the surest way to pull the rug out from under it would be to weaken the IP rules”
Photographers also made submissions opposing fair use to the review, but in these situations photographers tend to get squeezed between big publishers and end users, and their interests disregarded. But in this instance the interests of photographers and big publishing happened to coincide: in a truly epic irony fail, even the Daily Mail – notorious for their freetard approach to photography – attacked the fair use proposals, describing them as “Google’s latest power grab”.
Now, according to recent leaks in both the Sunday Telegraph and the Independent, fair use provisions have been dropped from the review proposals. So in this case, on the basis of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, photographers have cause to feel grateful to Big Media.
But so far as Big Media and the IP Review are concerned, the BBC for one has at least two faces. As revealed here last November, the thorny issue of so-called orphan works – defeated by the photographers’ campaign against Clause 43 of the Digital Economy Bill – is also back on the UK copyright agenda. It now appears that while the Hargreaves review will reject the proposal to introduce fair use legislation, it will recommend the introduction of an orphan works law.
Proponents of OW legislation like to claim that their interest is purely cultural, but the fight over Clause 43 of the DEB exposed many of the true movers and shakers behind OW legislation, all of them organisations with a stake in the commercial exploitation of such work. Prime amongst these movers and shakers was the BBC.
And sure enough, last Friday there was BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz bigging up orphan works, oddly neglecting to mention that his employers were one of the main proponents of such legislation during the Clause 43 debacle of the DEB. A number of photographers, surely intrigued to see their TV licence fees used to employ someone enthusiastically promoting a scheme potentially detrimental to their livelihoods, dropped by Gompertz’ blog to comment on and correct his many errors and misassumptions.
Gompertz is of course not the first Beeb flack to pimp orphan works while forgetting to mention how the corporation hopes to benefit commercially from OW legislation. In November BBC advisor and former BBC Head of Copyright Stephen Edwards was caught playing the same game in the Guardian.
If Gompertz is right that the review will recommend the introduction of OW legislation, then he is also correct that such a recommendation is bound to reignite last year’s Clause 43 row. In which case we can look forward lots more OW pr fluff disguised as journalism from the likes of Edwards and Gompertz.