Gowers’ IP review faces backlash for thwarting copyright extension

Andrew Gowers’ review into IP was published last Wednesday (6 December), potentially heralding the largest shake-up of IP law in the UK for decades.

As expected, the review concluded that the copyright period on sound recordings should not be extended from the current 50 years to 95.

The news immediately sparked a damning response from the UK music business, which immediately lobbied the Government to ignore Gowers’ recommendations and “support the extension of copyright in sound recordings”.

The chairman of recording industry association IFPI John Kennedy said it was “illogical and discriminatory” that UK artists and producers enjoyed less copyright protection than their counterparts internationally.

“We believe that the Government should firmly reject Gowers’ recommendation and we will carry on pressing for parity and fairness in advance of the EU’s legislative review,” said Kennedy.

Although the music industry lobby has been by far the most high-profile group to voice concerns in relation to Gowers, the review makes a series of recommendations that go well beyond protecting the rights of a handful of successful musicians.

The far-reaching review also recommended a name change for the UK Patent Office to the UK Intellectual Property Office, an ostensibly cosmetic development, but one that Philip Harris, the president of the Institute of Trademark Attorneys, called “most welcome”.

“We’ve been encouraging greater clarity from the Government for many years in respect of intellectual property and have cited the name of the Patent Office as an inhibiting factor in helping the public to understand that IP covers not just patents, but also trademarks, design and copyright,” said Harris.

Gowers also called for a consultation process on fast-track litigation procedures for IP cases, including capped fees, limited disclosure and stricter time limits, as well as the introduction of a fast-track registration for trademarks. And he gave support to the establishment of a single EU court to adjudicate cross-border patent disputes.

The 146-page review also recommended the legalisation of the copying of copyright-protected material from one device to another for private consumption, known as ‘format shifting’, and the introduction of tighter measures to combat piracy and counterfeiting.

Ian De Freitas, an IP partner at Berwin Leighton Paisner, said Gowers’ was a comprehensive review of the current state of IP law. “It makes some pragmatic suggestions for change, which should not be seen as merely tinkering on the edges,” he said.

However, Andrew Hobson, head of IP at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, was damning of the report. “There’s no grand theme, nor any really major initiative here,” he said. “Much of it’s tinkering at the margins or, more politely, fine-tuning.”

Davenport Lyons partner David Marchese added that it was “very disappointing” that the term of copyright for sound recordings had not been increased. He also said it was “nonsense” that the recommendations for legalising place shifting only applied to new works.

“At present the law is widely disregarded because people can’t legally media shift,” said Marchese. “With the recommended change they’ll have to check on the dates of all their CDs to see if they can.”