The IPO chose Office Party Friday last week to unveil 15 more proposals on intellectual property reform. This is traditionally the most alcoholic workday of the year – and ministers might need another stiff drink as they digest the surprises that ideologically fanatical bureaucrats have been preparing for them.
Among the proposals is the suggestion to make copyright opt-in, which means the UK will be breaching European and international law, and the strange notion that parody and satire are illegal in the UK. Traditionally the civil service is not supposed to set policy, but carry it out. The advice they give ministers is expected to be dispassionate and weighted. But this is the Intellectual Property Office. It’s carjacked the policy bus and is driving it at the UK’s creative industries, freelance sectors and creative amateurs too. These fifteen documents fully reveal the IPO’s hand.
As an example of capture, we discussed the idea of "extended collective licensing" here on Friday, which barely rates a mention in the Hargreaves review but is the centrepiece of the consultation. Together with orphan works reform this threatens to destroy the market for professionals and would reverse the internationally agreed legal protection against being ripped off for amateurs and professionals alike.
Chief copyright bureaucrat Ed Quilty’s first big idea on joining the IPO two years ago was making copyright opt-in – and finally, he sees his chance. "It’s like your local council licensing a massive gang of shoplifters, then giving them a rent-free shop on the high street in which to sell the goods they’ve just stolen from the other shops," is how one commenter describes it. Since Berne and other conventions clearly state that IP legal protections are automatic, this promises a huge fight.
But no proposal is more surreal than the exemption for parody – so if you were ripping off Stairway to Heaven for your own rib-tickling Zepp parody, you wouldn’t need to ask permission or expect to get sued if you get to number one in the charts with your derivative work. The system works just fine as it is – nobody is in jail – but according to the Maoists at the IPO, parody is illegal.
It should be remembered how well the system works now. There is no copyright exemption for parody and satire, and yet satire booms. Professional parodists simply ask (and get) permission when they need it. The rest of us don’t ask, but pay pennies to the creator in the unheard-of-event of it becoming popular – which is only fair. Yet according to the IPO, the exemption would create almost as much value as the entire UK TV industry in new works of parody. This and more from the Maoists, can be found here. I can’t quite discount the idea that "the IPO" itself is an enormous parody, a sophisticated satire of how groupthink and utopianism can infect a small Whitehall department. We shall try calling Antony Jay, and find out.