TheConsumer Rights Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons this week. Introducing the Bill, Business Secretary Vince Cable noted that it created a new category of “digital content” which will help give consumers redress (in the form of repair, replacement or refund) in the event of purchasing online a corrupted ebook or music track, much as exists with physical goods. We remain in contact with officials on this but feel relaxed about the general thrust. In the course of his introductory remarks Dr Cable also helpfully noted that “the European Commission is conducting a competition investigation into Google’s business practices. Among other things, the Commission is considering how Google uses third-party content without consent and how it structures its search results. Our domestic Consumer Rights Bill will enable us to strengthen that framework by making it easier for individuals and businesses to seek redress through private actions where they have been harmed by anti-competitive behaviour.” The whole Second Reading debate, should you be suffering insomnia, can be enjoyed here.
Meanwhile, off the Floor of the House, the Intellectual Property Bill had its first two sessions in Committee Stage – with the debates primarily focusing on the clauses around design rights and the impact of 3D printing on our design laws. However, leading for the Labour Party Shadow Business Minister Iain Wright MP (supported by Labour’s Gerry Sutcliffe MP and the SNP’s Pete Wishart MP) took the opportunity to press for an amendment which would require the IPO in its Annual Report to make “an assessment of the degree of online copyright infringement and the extent to which identified search engines and other internet services facilitate this” ; and also no less an excellent proposal for the Secretary of State “to set out to both Houses firm proposals on how the Government plan to take action to ensure that technology companies hinder access to infringing material.” BIS Minister David Willetts conceded the importance of the subject, and gave the commitment that online copyright infringement will be included in the 2014 report (good stuff) but rejected the amendment on the grounds that it was too prescriptive. For the fill nip and tuck of the debate, have a read here – and policy anoraks may particularly enjoy the exchanges as to whether the IP Minister should – as is currently not the case – sit in the House of Commons.
In the course of debate about online penalties Willetts announced that the Government is proposing to undertake a study reviewing the penalties for online and physical infringement. Lord Younger will be leading on this, though a tender will be put out shortly for an external company to run the report. Government is aiming to launch this in April and hoping to publish by December 2014.
On copyright enforcement, IP Adviser to the PM, Mike Weatherly MP asked what the Government’s policy was on determining spending levels on tackling infringement by local government trading standards officers, and what the specific funding allocation is. The reply was that there isn’t one and there aren’t any.
The question of how Ofsted conducts its business spilled on to the political pages this week (such as in The Telegraph) , with Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw reportedly detecting political motives behind the reports of two right-leaning think-tanks, Policy Exchange and Civitas proposing reform or eradication of Ofsted. The Secretary of State has strenuously denied any such involvement motive. This engagement was echoed in Parliament with former Minister of State for Education Nick Gibb asking: “what Ofsted's policy is on the inspection of reception classes in primary schools with regard to the freeflow and child-initiated approach to education”. His successor, David Laws replied with the inevitable dead-bat: “this is a matter for Ofsted”.
Also on Education, Labour’s Frank Field drew out of the Department for Education figures for the highest and lowest levels of spending per capita on primary reception classes. The range for 2012-13 was a surprisingly large £1930 to £5,762.
Talking of education, everyone, including the Shadow Higher Education Minister Liam Byrne through a Parliamentary Question, is itching to find out when the Higher Education Funding Council for England will receive its funding letter. Minister of State for Science and Universities provided the illuminating answer of “shortly” – we expect it next week, but the delay does intimate a political disagreement within the coalition. The funding level could be highly significant as the level of HEFC funding will in turn determine the level of its funding for Jisc and other higher education institutions costs.
The European Commission is never far from our thoughts as this week has seen us - and it would seem the world and his dog - responding to the Commission’s consultation on copyright. Music composers have created a useful tool and a petition: http://www.creatorsforeurope.eu/en/ if you would like the Commission to get the message about the importance of a robust and flexible copyright regime then do fill it in.
Research commissioned and published last year by DG MARKT into the appropriateness of the Copyright Directive is available to read onlinehere .
The IPO’s IP Crime Group met this week with both the IP Minister Viscount Younger and the PM’s IP Adviser Mike Weatherly MP in attendance. The Minister referred to various enforcement initiatives such as the creation of the National Crime Agency and the IPO funding for trading standards. Mike Weatherley revealed he writing a paper for the Prime Minister on search engines and advocated a “follow the money” approach to tackling infringement. IPO officials said that they were working with DfE to get more IP education into schools. The IPO reminded us that there is to be an International IP Enforcement Summit on 11-12 June, in central London. The agenda is being drawn up and excitingly a micro-site already exists:www.internationalipenforcementsummit.org
Who We’ve Met and Forthcoming Meetings:
This week we attended the launch of the Labour Party’s Independent Review of the Creative Industries, led by former British Film Council boss John Woodward and chatted with Harriet Harman MP, Chuka Umunna MP & Iain Wright MP. The snows of Kilimanjaro. Next week we will be launching the Access to Research Initiative with David Willetts MP (Minister of State for Science) and attending the launch of Quick Reads and the National Literacy Trust Gala Dinner.
And finally: here are some thoughts on The Pirate Party’s dodgy logic: http://bit.ly/1d7zub9