back to article IP law probe MPs hunt for smoking gun, find plenty of smoke

There’s an elephant in the room as Parliament’s informal inquiry into intellectual property policy rolls on. In the foreground, there’s the role of the officials who are supposed to support it. In the background, there’s something more troubling. Within the past two years - and without a hint, let alone a fanfare - the UK’s …


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  1. Colin Millar

    Whoulda thunk it

    Cameron and Whitehall - closet anarchists

    As an unreconstructed old leftie I pretty much think that "property is theft" is a fairly safe bet - most physical property was nicked or strongarmed at least once at some time and the notion of exclusive ownership of land, major infrastructure and what should be the public domain is quite offensive.

    The only exceptions, for me, would be the trivial amounts of tangible property which people could be said to actually earn by the sweat of their brow and stuff that came out of their own heads.

    It is quite amazing that a UK government is actually supporting a position which, if succesful, would reduce the asset base and the turnover within our economy. Don't get me wrong - I was never a fan of the "if it moves - monetise it" school of economic growth - but to deliberately remove transactions where real value passes in one direction and real money passes in the other is and write-down (write-off?) the value held in major assets is lunacy at any time - never mind in the middle of a recession with another one on the way.

    Replacing real economic activity with lolcats - actually sums up the economic astuteness of most western governments since the 80s. Now - where's my Chinese credit card?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If you want to provide an incentive to create new works then granting exclusive rights for 70-odd years plus life is somewhat contrary to that aim (not to mention you can incentivise dead artists all you want - I still doubt they'll be creating any new works). Shorter terms in the 10, 15 or 20 year range (perhaps requiring exponentially-rising paid renewals to ensure only profitable works remain protected) would enable artists to profit from their works without walling people off from the cultural icons they grew up with. If you can't make a profit in 10 or so years then it surely can't be worth protecting.

    As it stands we're somewhat stuck in a cultural limbo where there's so much invested in existing content the best we get is rehash after rehash of the same tired works as there are so many vested corporate interests who acquired copyrights from the original authors long ago wanting to milk their investments until they turn to sand.

    1. Graham Wilson
      Thumb Up

      Re: Incentives. - Absolutely

      "Shorter terms in the 10, 15 or 20 year range (perhaps requiring exponentially-rising paid renewals to ensure only profitable works remain protected)"

      Absolutely, this is key. Copyright will remain something to be trodden on by the masses until it's made fair and reasonable.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Incentives. - Absolutely

        You might almost say "The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers.".

    2. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Incentives.

      "If you can't make a profit in 10 or so years it surely can't be worth protecting."

      This is just plain factually wrong. It's wrong technically - it can easily take more than ten years to start monetizing technological IP - and it's also wrong creatively.

      If I take a classic photo or write a classic novel, why should that classic photo or novel stop putting food on my table after 10 years?

      It can take anywhere from not much time to decades to create classic work. If there's no incentive to create that work, creative people won't take the time and everything will turn into faddy meme-of-the-week YouTube bedroom dance videos and disposable novels about sexy vampires.

      IP isn't just about technology. It's about a cultural statement that some creative work has value that - ironically - isn't just about making as much money as quickly as possible.

  3. Neil Brown

    I'm often unconvinced by what Richard Mollett says...

    ... but he's one of the best public speakers I've ever heard. Very eloquent and hugely persuasive. His content often bothers me, but I can't fault the way in which he delivers it.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You might imagine that the job of the IPO would be to balance the needs of everyone affected by copyright, both the producers and the consumers, and come up with sensible policy recommendations.

    Ten years ago the IPO acted like an industry trade body. Their only interest seemed to be increasingly harsh copyright enforcement and extended terms.

    Now they seem to have done a complete volte-face.

    Copyright is all about balance. Either extreme - abolition of copyright or totalitarian enforcement - disadvantages everyone. Why does it seem to be impossible for the IPO to take a reasonable position?

    1. Colin Millar
      Big Brother

      Re: WTF?

      > Why does it seem to be impossible for the IPO to take a reasonable position?

      Because it is a government bureaucracy without effective political management. We will never know why quangos like the IPO adopt particular stances - it is usually to satisfy some powerful lobbying which they see as being in their interest. They are so far removed from political/public accountability that they see their interest as something distinct from the public interest. They are, however, exceedingly useful as political tools for ministers denying responsibility for anything.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WTF?

      They haven't done a complete volte-face - they've just stopped acting like an industry trade body, and this has upset the people who want them to act like an industry trade lobby.

      You shouldn't judge the positions and actions of the IPO based on Orlowski's writings - he's made his biases very clear, and he takes a very black and white position on these issues. Anyone who isn't in complete agreement with his stance on the issue of intellectual property is painted as a caricatured supporter of piracy.

    3. PyLETS

      Re: WTF?

      Ten years ago no politician was willing to stand up to media barons who treated the law with impunity and got whatever they wanted by threatening them with the kind of harassment and negative spin only the media could organise. With newspaper sales plummeting politicians no longer need the blessing of these crooks to communicate with the public. You can imagine the IPO going along with the consensus amongst the politicians that the likes of Robert Maxwell, Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch got whatever they wanted 10 years ago.

      Levenson and the successful Internet campaign against SOPA and PIPA has changed everything. These bastards are getting their comeuppance, and not a moment too soon.

  5. Graham Wilson

    Would be a different story if copyright/IPO had been respected.

    This is what happens as a consequence of the Copyright Industry having been excessively greedy, very unreasonable and crying wolf for far too long.

    Had 'Fair Use' actually been fair use, orphaned [unowned] works been made accessible and that copyright durations not extended effectively for two lifetimes but much shorter--say the economic life of a work--17 to 30 years or so--then copyright might actually have been respected by society rather than treated as a joke.

    Copyright law in its present form has only lasted 120 years or so because for most of this period copying was hard for individuals--printing books and pressing records etc. required industrial scale operations, now it doesn't.

    Copyright law will only survive long-term if it's respected; for that the law has to be rewritten so that it's BOTH reasonable for creators and end users.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Would be a different story if copyright/IPO had been respected.

      Quite right. Unfortunately, all the re-writes proposed to date seem to respect only the bank accounts of the big distributor-middlemen and what might be termed professional rights-holders, organisations that create no wealth and serve only to redistribute what already exists.

  6. Luther Blissett

    Optional wants

    >> said Moss. “If you are looking at public spending you want to pay as little as possible for all the things you buy, and the easiest thing to do is make things free.”

    Could that be to compensate Joe Taxpayer for such procured tangibles as the ratcheting price of aircraft carrier catapults and NHS soap? If so, the answer to the question on p2 could be SpAds. OTOH until the smoke clears we should not discount the logical possibility that the elephant is the one holding the elephant gun.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is where the electorate are going wrong. You don't sign petitions these days, if you want to influence policy then you need to entertain MPs. Wine and dine then, hire some sexy girls to entertain them.

    1. Robert E A Harvey


  8. Peter Stone

    Of course, taking photos, & having a newspaper to publish them in might help :)

    (Someone who will be checking if he's being followed by a white van tonight!)

  9. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    " the other conception of copyright as a regulation, something that trips consumers up, and therefore the less of it there is the better"

    Perhaps this view comes from people who have been on the reciving end of this type of behaviour:

    You buy some software; find it doesn't work & ask for your money back - "Sorry no can so, the box has been opened; it's illegal to get your money back because of copyright" or other similar crap.

    You buy a DVD by mistake; you already have it - No you can't change it because of copyright.

    Your PC blows up, you put the HDD in a new box, but Windows won't work; you have to buy a new copy because of copyright.

    You buy a CD or DVD and you want to listen to it / watch it on your mobile; not allowed because of xopyright...

    1. PassiveSmoking

      Adobe are notorious for this. I have a copy of CS5.5 and all appropriate licenses (A 5.0 license and a 5.5 upgrade license). My laptop broke down recently and I had to get a new one. I reinstalled all my software but got a nasty shock with the Adobe suite. It kept informing me that my license keys (If you have an upgrade license key, you have to enter both that and the license key you're upgrading for, for extra blech) couldn't be used.

      Turns out you're only allowed two physical installations of the Adobe Suite per license. Okay, that's a major restriction but I guess license terms are license terms. What isn't so acceptable is how Adobe tie a license to a machine. Their DRM seems to associate an installation with a specific piece of hardware, and if you want to use their software on a third machine you have to explicitly tell Adobe that you uninstalled it from the machine that it's installed on.

      You can't do that if the machine it's installed on has broken down.

      What's more. Adobe don't seem able to deactivate a license either, even if you contact them and tell them, "Hey, my computer broke down. Can you unauthorize it for me?"

      My pirating days are long behind me, but this is the kind of crap that makes me give serious consideration again.

      No DRM in history has ever prevented a copyrighted product from eventually making it into the hands of people who paid nothing for it. It only serves to annoy and demonize the people who actually paid for the product, you know, the ones responsible for your revenue? The ones you might want to keep sweet if you want repeat custom?

      Bullying people with ever more draconian copyright laws isn't going to work either.

  10. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    IP the savior?

    " These intangibles, unlike the products of the tangible industries of textile and hardware, cannot be made more cheaply in the emerging economies"

    I hear this trotted out, along with "finance", as the 'new' industry of the UK as if to justify the collapse of manufacturing. The thing is it used to be true. The Chinese particularly didn't have the "it doesn't work well", or "it could be better" attitude that drives better products. Well it's not true anymore; and they are clever; they invented paper and fireworks while we were scrathing on cave walls. They are churning out engineering graduates faster than we are doing anything (especially China/India). Meanwhile in the UK, engineers are sucked into finance/management to make more money and school kids see banking as the way to make money.

    A lot of software development has already moved to India. It probably is more cost effective to develop hardware in China than the UK, however, given the profit generated from manufacturing so much of it there, it's hardly surprising that they are starting to invest in designing things for themselves too. China is also starting to rule the roost in publishing research papers and new patents.

    I won't even talk about how the finance industy just sells your investments/debts to each other just charging a percentage with each transaction....

    Nope, I'm sorry, but I don't think that IP is the magic bullet/savior that you think it is

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: IP the savior?

      "Well it's not true anymore; and they are clever; they invented paper and fireworks while we were scrathing on cave walls."

      The achievements of their great**N ancestors are hardly relevant. Genetically we are all the same and culturally we can all change.

      The ancient Greeks had electricity, analog computers and steam engines if the archeological evidence is to be believed. The Romans did for them (and the Celts) and it took a couple of millenia to recover. Similarly, Chinese insularity and civil service incompetence left the country so crap that the round-eyed westerners were able to overrun it and screw them over for a couple of hundred years. (Let's hope they've forgotten that bit.)

      Given that we have a massive head-start, the only possible reason for the West not to be still running the planet on its own terms in a thousand years is cluelessness. Fortunately for everyone else, *that* appears to be a renewable resource.

  11. P. Lee

    Non-joined up thinking

    Didn't the RPi chaps say that it was not economical to build the things in the UK (at least partly) because components attract import duty but completed computers do not. Do you wonder that we don't manufacture stuff?

    The problem is that the vast majority of IP is not being generated by those most worthy of its protection. It's a horrible fog from the media and consumer electronics industries trying to maintain their status as gatekeepers. It leads to all sorts of nonsense because the world has changed. Production and reproduction is no barrier to entry - the physical production barrier to entry is broken and the licensing option cannot be enforced without being unacceptably intrusive and leading to gross profiteering.

    Perhaps we need to consider that media doesn't "create" anything. It concentrates wealth rather than creating it. Designing a new production robot - that can create wealth if it can make things cheaper. Stopping patents on software creates wealth - because it reduces the costs of production of real things.

    Things that make real things cheap are worthy of protection, but its difficult to stop being seduced by a the big £ signs which come from selling things with zero production costs. We should protect ARM because ARM chips make computing cheap which makes other things cheap. The next boy-band, not so much. Patents on unlocking a phone, definitely not. Not even if it is clever.

    We need to have a clear idea of "value to society" as distinct from "money value". Its easy to make a company look valuable by firing employees, but the value is often a short-term illusion based on money. That isn't always the case, but I'd say these days its the norm. Government and the legal system should be about providing value for society.

    As an illustration, bananas can't be imported into Australia. Excellent, we have protected the industry and have nice high prices, encouraging banana production. However, they are four times the price of bananas in the UK which means we don't consume a lot of them. The question is, are we better off as a society with wealthy banana-growers or cheap bananas for consumers? Who should government be working for?

  12. Mark Pawelek

    Where the evidence?

    Bizarre that Andrew Orlowski, who often champions science, can be so wishy-washy and unscientific when it comes to economics. Is that economics for you? - must it always be about magical thinking, blind prejudice and faith. Is that ever any room for evidence in economics?

    The USA became the greatest economy in the World in the 19th century when they, more or less, ignored so called intellectual property. In the last 35 years, the era of its downfall, they've passed endless new IP laws to extend and enhace the IP.

    Patent law was created to ecourage manufacturers to make their ideas public so that everyone could use best-practice and the general productivity of the population be thereby enhanced. You may think that's just quaint 19th century economic thinking but, pray, prove that we do economics better today. Where's the evidence?

    [quote]Yeates also noted that officials had downgraded the contribution of creative industries from 8 per cent of GDP to 3 per cent overnight, much to everyone’s surprise.[/quote]

    Exactly what is GDP anyhow? Does it bear much (or any) relationship to 'wealth creation'. Why is GDP so important to Andrew Orlowski? Why not discuss productivity increases, as the driver of economic growth? I'm keen to know how to enhance my programming productivity by patenting so-called software inventions. Will these inventions help me with fewer bugs, enhanced readability, better maintenance, etc. No. Software patents do not create wealth, but only serve to move it from the many to the few. [but they don't even do that very well - ask Oracle!]. How will 90 years copyright protection for my source code encourage me to write more and better code? Given that code is obsolete within a couple of years [we will always write it better the 2nd time around], how are long (c) terms beneficial to programmers?

    What magical thinking can anyone bring to bear on these questions?

  13. Mark Pawelek

    Less waffle, more evidence please

    [quote]an insight into how policy-making within the IPO was driven[/quote]

    In the USA, such policy-making has been driven by Disney and Hollywood, their lawyers, lobbyists, and paid cronies in Congress. They've extended copyright law over 11 times since the mid-1970s. Has that generated any 'economic growth' at all? Does IP law, in any way, promote productivity gains? Just show me the evidence. otherwise I must assume Andrew Orlowski is applying similar 'magical thinking' as those he discredits. The theory behind patent law says that the general productivity of the populace is enhanced by publication of inventions (but only if the inventions are thereby applied). Better for us that Google, Oracle (and everyone coding) use best practice. Show me a single patented software invention that has led to any productivity increases in computer programming. Show me evidence - I don't need to read more waffle by Andrew Orlowski. I'll show you loads of open source products that have enhanced my productivity; loads of books and talks promoting ideas held in common (principles, patterns, DRY, SOLID, simple design, TDD, etc) - I can't find a single patent that made me a better (more productive) coder.

  14. Murphy's Lawyer

    “I feel there’s a chasm, a conceptual chasm, between the view of IP as a property right, which is recognised as such by UK, European and global law – it’s yours, you own it, you can trade off it – versus the other conception of copyright as a regulation, something that trips consumers up, and therefore the less of it there is the better,"

    Then there are arseholes like this (

    "Called the Rockstar Consortium, the 32-person outfit has a single-minded mission: It examines successful products, like routers and smartphones, and it tries to find proof that these products infringe on a portfolio of over 4,000 technology patents once owned by one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies."

    Or this (

    IP isn't just something to trade with, it's a weapon to be used against competitors when they infringe, frequently unwittingly because the process is so fracking obvious it should never have been patented, or there's prior art that invalidates the patent; but it's too expensive to defend yourself in court.

    IP needs to be cut back to what it was originally created to be: a temporary, limited, government granted monopoly to allow creators and artists, if they are clever enough, to get financial rewards from their work. IP's fetishisation into a God-given/basic human right of absolute control which should be extended to the heat death of the universe will only harm creators and the public alike.


    This is the UK

    Where a company like BT/Phorm can duplicate, process, and sell the entire (copyright protected) content of UK telecommunications with impunity.

    It was, and remains, effectively industrial espionage on an epic scale. Yet every regulator involved - UK IPO, Police, ICO, Ofcom Security Services - refused to intervene.

    There is no enforcement of intellectual property rights in the UK unless you've got the resources to engage in civil litigation, or the means to twist the arm of government.

  16. clean_state

    go civil society, go

    Yes, the long slide of copyright and patent law towards the american standard seems to be slowing down with at least some MPs realizing that 1) their voters do not support it and 2) it is probably not such a great idea for the long-term production of new IP.

    Scared Orlowskis, short on arguments are now flying into conspiracy territory with headlines like "who's done it ?" , "who is pulling the strings from the shadows ?" and so on. Good.

    The answer is simple: civil society. Yes, such a thing exists. We, the people also have economic and societal interests that we would like to promote alongside the purely economic interests of corporations.

    For example, we love arts: music, movies, paintings, live performances. We want more of them, we want new ones and yes, we can pay. But we know that only true artists can deliver new works of art. So the money needs to go to them, not some greedy middlemen. We also want to have useful access to these works of art, without unworkable DRM schemes and territorial restrictions. Thank you for mentioning Apple in your article. They are the ones who killed DRM on digital music making it actually useful.

    An example from Japan: a Japanese law prohibits replays of Anime series on TV. This amounts to artificially dialing the economic value of an anime after its first airtime to zero. Pretty extreme isn't it ? Yet, the Japanese have found it a useful incentive for the creation of new works. Now compare this to the author's life +70 years copyright in the USA ? It's a different option and yet, you will have a hard time labeling the Japanese as evil communists or dumb freetards.

    So yes, I welcome this fresh look at IP law. I think it was badly needed. The way Orlowski likes to describe it, "more IP versus less IP" is a reduction that does not do it justice. The real issues at stake have to do with the dynamism of the arts and entertainment scene and, for patent law, with the dynamism of our industry. Those are important topics, well worth having a fresh look at. Let us think them through and implement an IP system that works for society as a whole and not copy the US and the dead-end their neo-conservative policies have brought them to.

    1. Graham Wilson
      Thumb Up

      @clean_state -- Re: go civil society, go -- you're spot on!

      "...we love arts: music, movies, paintings, live performances. We want more of them, we want new ones and yes, we can pay. But we know that only true artists can deliver new works of art. So the money needs to go to them, not some greedy middlemen."

      This is so true, and tragically copyright has been hijacked by the middlemen who've the money to protect 'their' hijacked rights.

      "An example from Japan: a Japanese law prohibits replays of Anime series on TV. This amounts to artificially dialing the economic value of an anime after its first airtime to zero. Pretty extreme isn't it ?"

      Right, it might be extreme but it encourages more works to be produced. And in a strange way, this was EFFECTIVELY not that dissimilar to the situation before effective copyright (Berne Convention 1886) where works could be reproduced essentially without permission.

      Clearly from the copious quantities of wonderful compositions, the lack of copyright didn't put the kibosh on Western European Art [classical] music--the whole of the historical classical music cannon attests to this.


      Why society does not necessarily benefit from blunt copyright law:

      Mozart composed one of the most famous operas of all time, Don Giovanni, K. 527, in 1787; and still today--two and quarter centuries later--even many of the rock-music obsessed actually know some of its tunes.

      Mozart died at the tragically young age of nearly 36 in 1791, which--if modern copyright laws were in place back then--Don Giovanni would not have come out of copyright until 1861 (70 years after his death). Nevertheless, tunes from Don Giovanni were turned into full works within their own right (and in some instances) whilst Mozart was still alive. For example, in 1788, a year after 'The Don' was first performed, Josef Triebensee made a woodwind ensemble arrangement of its most famous tune.

      Similarly, Johann Nepomuk Wendt (1745-1801) made an arrangement for 8 winds/woodwind ensemble obviously sometime before 1801!. Had modern copyright law been in place at the time, then this famous arrangement of Mozart's wonderful music would NOT have been composed at all!

      Listen to this YouTube video and hear what modern copyright would have killed off if given a chance:

      Today, this music is even available on iTunes!

      1. Ian 55
        Thumb Up

        Re: @clean_state -- go civil society, go -- you're spot on!

        Totally agree re The Don. Vicente Martín y Soler and Giuseppe Sarti would be having words via their lawyers with Mozart too.

        The 20th Century example for opera is to compare and contrast the quality of the productions of G&S before and after they went out of copyright - doing so was one of the best things that has happened to the operas. If we still had to sit through the original D'Oyly Carte productions because no-one else was allowed to do them, we'd have missed a lot. And lots of people would have made less money.

  17. Scott 19

    Free lunch

    Commenters around here always make me laugh when artciles like this appear, they all want a free lunch but don't want to cook or wash up.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deja Vu

    This would be the non-parliamentary inquiry? It's an APPG so the one thing it can't be is a Parliamentary inquiry. Didn't we do that bit of hyperbole already?

    The rest of the hyperbole is pretty dire - 'a chasm, a conceptual chasm, between the view of IP as a property right' 'versus the other conception of copyright as a regulation'

    It's not a chasm it's simply both. They are rights created by regulation. As is usual for rights!

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Deja Vu

      You're mixing up positive and negative rights. Negative rights are rights that exist regardless of regulation (and are usually curtailed by it). They are everything that require no other person to be deprived in order to exist, such as the right to own property (the actual ownership of property is a separate issue) and the right to free speech. Nobody has to be prevented from speaking to allow me to speak, for instance. They require no action to exist and require a negative action - an action against them - to be curtailed.

      Positive rights require one party to be deprived in some way in order for another party to enjoy a "right" such as the right to not be offended that is the essence of all hate speech legislation, or the right to force others to provide access to their property regardless of their opinion about what you want to do with it. Those rights must be created by regulation, otherwise they wouldn't exist - they require "positive action" to exist in the first place.

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    2021 has had its fair share of tech IPOs. GitLab finally went public in September, attracting a price of $77, per share. It soared above $130 before dropping during November when investors took a bit of a reality check on the loss-making source shack.

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  • Singaporean superapp Grab IPOs – badly – and promises to focus on maps and money
    Shares fell over 20 per cent in its first day on NASDAQ

    Singaporean superapp Grab has signaled an intention to further its digital banking segment and beef up its mapping tech to improve its ride-hailing services, after an underwhelming debut on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

    In an interview on the sidelines of the US market opening yesterday, Grab CEO Anthony Tan told Nikkei Asia that building better digital maps of the areas in which it operates is the number one technology the superapp company will focus on over the next decade.

    "We invest in mapping because it's a very local technology: Local technology on the drivers' side, merchants' side and consumers' side gives us an edge versus other peers," said Tan. The company's second priority is figuring out how to deliver groceries more efficiently for both partners and consumers – which is why the mapping effort will concentrate on finding places drivers can stop.

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  • Globalfoundries files for IPO
    Deal could value chip maker at $25bn

    GlobalFoundries has filed for an initial public offering in the United States.

    Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala, which owns GlobalFoundries, confirmed on Monday what has been rumored for a while: the contract chip maker is going to be publicly listed – on the Nasdaq – and is looking to raise at least $1bn from the move. The IPO could value the biz at around $25bn, it was reported in August.

    GlobalFoundries – which moved its HQ from Silicon Valley to New York in April – has manufacturing facilities in the US, Asia, and Europe, with its most advanced being the 12nm node, which is used for components in PCs and other electronics. It famously gave up in 2018 on going any smaller than that, leading to it breaking promises to make 10 and 7nm chips for IBM. Big Blue sued GlobalFoundries this year as a result.

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