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Intellectual Property Rights

Volume 687: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the extent to which the recommendations of the Gowers review into intellectual property are in the long-term interests of the United Kingdom’s creative industries.

My Lords, a strong and balanced intellectual property system is in the interests of the UK’s creative industries. The Government have committed to take forward those recommendations of the Gowers review for which we are responsible, including a package of measures to improve enforcement of copyright, giving Trading Standards new powers and additional resources to enforce copyright law, increasing penalties for online infringement and recognising IP crime as an area for police action in the National Community Safety Plan.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He has not mentioned the statement in the Pre-Budget Report:

“The Government notes the recommendation to the European Commission on copyright term”.

The European Commission will be reviewing the matter. The Treasury has been driving the review, despite the fact that two other government departments are involved and the DCMS sponsors the creative industries. What plans does the DCMS have for a proper consultation on the recommendations of the Gowers report? Will it consult the public, who have a crucial interest, the creative industries and other interested parties?

My Lords, I answer for the Government, not any particular department, at the Dispatch Box. The term of protection for sound recordings and performance rights is harmonised at European level, as the noble Lord has recognised. As such, it is a matter for the European Commission. That is why the recommendation on the term is made to the Commission. I understand that the Commission plans to consider the issue of term in the forthcoming year as part of its programme of work, so at this stage it has made no recommendations to consider. The Gowers analysis will, however, inform UK participation in relevant European discussions and negotiations.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the holder of a number of patents in a spin-out biotechnology company at Imperial College. Is the Minister aware that, on average, it costs about three times as much to apply for a patent in Europe as it does in the United States? Furthermore, translations into the respective languages are required. How soon can we expect the implementation of the Gowers review’s recommendation that the establishment of a single-Community patent should be expedited by negotiations in Europe?

My Lords, I am aware of those issues; they were covered in the Gowers review. The report is fresh off the press, and departments are considering it and formulating a detailed action plan to cover those areas for which the Government are responsible, including the point that my noble friend makes.

My Lords, the important Gowers review urges the Government to urge the Commission to amend Directive 2001/29/EC. One of the review’s recommendations is to allow an exception for creative, transformative or derivative works. Another is to deal with orphan works. I am looking, for example, at pages 68 to 71 of the report. Will the Government heed those recommendations and seek to put exceptions into the directive to benefit consumers and users of intellectual property? At the same time, will they consider the recommendation made in an important article in the Financial Times: that authors who seek an extension by 50 years of the copyright in their works should have to apply for a licence to do so, so that they could be shamed when they made such a monstrous application?

My Lords, for some time now the Government have recognised the problems experienced by anyone who wants to use a work whose rights holder cannot be identified—an orphan work. One of the key problems is that permission is needed to make any copy of certain work. Across the spectrum of the creative industries, it is recognised that solving the problem of orphan works would be good for everyone involved. A solution would benefit all those involved in archiving and cataloguing; all those creators who use older works to create new value; those whose work is restored and may benefit from remuneration from a new source; and consumers. The Government take this issue seriously.

My Lords, will the Minister answer the question about consultation on the recommendations of the Gowers review?

My Lords, there are 54 recommendations in the Gowers review. Some apply to the UK Government; some do not. Obviously, a range of departments are involved, and a whole load of processes will need to be followed to take those recommendations forward. Some will need primary legislation, some of them secondary legislation, and some will just need action within departments. Determining the proper process depends on which precise recommendation one is looking at. This Government have a strong record of consultation on legislation and secondary legislation, which will doubtless continue in this case.