News analysis – IP reforms accepted by government

A host of intellectual property reforms announced by government this morning appear to have been met with cautious acceptance by the design industry.

The reforms are a response to recommendations made by Professor Ian Hargreaves in his report Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth.

Key policy changes include a Digital Copyright Exchange – a digital market-place where licenses in copyright content can be bought and sold. A feasibility study will now begin to see how this will look and work.

Design guru and IP campaigner Sebastian Conran says that this will be ‘an excellent idea – particularly great for students. They can put up designs which they may have done seductively. It’s an opportunity for everyone.’ 

Government has also decided that license and clearance procedures are set to be changed for so called orphan works – material with unknown copyright owners. The intent is that works locked in libraries and museums would be made available for consumer research purposes.

However Conran feels that some of this material ‘should remain out of copyright.’ He adds, ‘The idea that someone can take material out of the public domain and make it theirs doesn’t sound fair. And we should be encouraging original design rather then ghost chasing anyway.’

It is estimated by the government that a saving of £7.9bn will be made to the UK economy through the new reforms. Business secretary Vince Cable says, ‘A more open intellectual property system will allow innovative businesses to develop new products and services which will be able to compete fairly in the UK’s thriving markets for consumer equipment.’

However Anti Copying In Design feels that there is a major oversight.  Acid chief executive Dids Macdonald says that the government response to Hargreaves’ report claims to find an apparent ‘lack of evidence’ for protecting design right and intellectual property.

She says, ‘They haven’t listened to the design community for ten years.’ Macdonald feels that the government’s  evidence points to the fact that only 2111 designers registered for design right last year and overlooks ‘the  99 per cent who rely on unregistered right.’

Elsewhere the government response announces a new ‘small claims’ court for copyright and design right infringement to help designers protect their rights.

Many designers have found that cases can be expensive to litigate and that they are faced with the potential of high costs awarded against them, if they were forced to withdraw during a case – or if they were to lose.

Partner for law firm Beachcroft Robin Fry says, ‘The system would mean that for claims with a value of less than £5000,  an issue fee would be paid, but there would be no order for costs whether the case was won or lost.’

He adds, ‘The system would not require creators to use solicitors and would be user friendly to resolve infringement issues. This will enable young designers to protect their rights without the fear of being devastated either by their own legal costs or the other side’s.’ 

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