Comment and insight on journalism issues from Press Gazette's guest writers

The huge and hidden story of a Government private property grab

 

Paul Ellis is a co-founder of Stop 43, a group that campaigns for change in UK copyright and contract law to strengthen creators’ rights and improve the functioning of photography markets to the benefit of photographers, users of photography, and the UK economy in general.

This is the huge but hidden story of the greatest attempted private property grab and transfer of value from the weak to the strong since the Enclosures.

This proposed legislation does not address the true problems within copyright and the rights markets – overwhelming and catastrophic levels of copyright infringement and toothless sanctions against it; unfair contracts; weak moral rights; and wholesale orphaning – but is doing something else altogether, namely setting up a means by which the property of UK rights owners is to be sequestered and eventually donated to foreign corporations, which will export that value out of the UK economy whilst providing few jobs and paying little tax in the UK.

Why is it hidden? Because copyright is thought to be a boring technicality.

It’s a truism that no one cares about copyright until their copyright is involved, and this is borne out by the huge public reaction against Instagram’s recent property grab – which cost Instagram more than half of its subscribers.

It’s not so much that the public wants to make money from its creations; more that it wants to retain control of them.

Professionals, on the other hand, have to make money in order to create, and so create in order to make money.

Like any business they wish to maximise their return on their investment: their photographs, illustrations, writing, audiovisual works. To do that they require strong, enforceable property rights and access to functioning markets in which to trade them.

Instead, the Government proposes to weaken those rights, confiscate their property, and via exceptions abolish markets. And this is supposed to result in economic growth?

Supporting documents to 2010’s Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth asserted that his recommendations would add £55bn – £79bn to UK GDP over the next 10 years.

In January, before the DCMS Committee, Hargreaves backtracked, saying there was a “high degree of uncertainty... estimate not absurd but subject to debate and further discussion...”

The Government’s latest policy document, Modernising Copyright, revises the estimate down by nearly 100% – to £0.5bn – £0.79bn over 10 years: just 80 pence a year for each of us in the UK.

On those figures, UK citizens’ human rights are to be constrained, their property confiscated, viable industries damaged and professional careers and incomes destroyed? This is growth? Are they serious?

The Government proposes to breach international law and face judicial review for the price of downloading one song a year?

In a debate on the proposals in the Lords in January, Lord (Michael) Grade said: “If someone invests in creating original material, and then invests further to digitally preserve it so that it can be licensed to others, that individual or company has a right to expect a full commercial return on their creative and financial investment. It seems to me that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has neglected its remit for business in favour of pursuing fashionable and ill founded innovation. The beneficiaries are likely to be companies such as Google and other international corporations that live off the backs of British creative industries on the internet.”

These proposed measures have been described as ‘premature, ill thought-out and constitutionally improper’. There is an alternative: the Copyright Hub, which promises to fix most copyright problems whilst creating new digital markets and stimulating genuine, sustainable growth. We’re all in favour of it.

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.