Copyright is a property right

Why do I begin with a tautology? Because in the Google-addled fantasyland inhabited by UK civil servants and government ministers responsible for intellectual property matters, and commercial giants which treat the law with contempt, intellectual property is not seen as a property rights issue. Yet the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 opens with the following words…

“Copyright is a property right…”

The UK Intellectual Property Office, ministers and Downing Street are in the eyes of many intellectual property holders overly sympathetic to companies which appropriate the work of others to make money for themselves. These include internet search providers that publish without recompense content belonging to others, and place advertisements alongside it.

Where does fair use end, and daylight robbery with state sanction begin? That is a serious question, not a rhetorical one.

Speaking at the recent launch of a report from the All Party Parliamentary IP Group, Timothy Clement Jones, Liberal Democrat culture spokesman in the House of Lords, said…

“The way IPO describes its own role is extraordinary. It never talks about protecting and enhancing IP, or the enforcement of IP. There’s a huge gap there in government.”

Tory MP and fellow committee member John Whittingdale added…

“The inquiry came about because of a growing concern that people who depend on intellectual property rights for their livelihoods thought it was not getting sufficient recognition in government. The IPO was very good at some things, but there were areas where it could be stronger.”

The report is short and restrained in tone, but the criticism of the IPO and government is strong, and the informal comment by Clement Jones on the IPO’s failure to protect, enhance and enforce intellectual property is spot on. It is left to bodies such as the National Union of Journalists to carry out such tasks. In this we do our best, but it is an uphill struggle, with trade unions and similar organisations ill-equipped to defend the interests of the large and growing number of victims of intellectual property theft.

Contrary to statements made by IPO bureaucrats such as the grandly-titled “Director of Copyright Enforcement” Ed Quilty, intellectual property is more than a regulatory framework. It is an issue of fundamental property rights. Content that you create is yours. It has in one way or another cost you to produce it, you own it, and it remains your property until you contractually assign rights in it to another, whether that be explicitly or by default.

Further reading

“NUJ response to the All-Party Intellectual Property Group inquiry on copyright”, John Toner, National Union of Journalists, 30 March 2012